Release Date: September, 1979
I hadn't ever given this record a chance because, up until just a couple of weeks ago, I didn't even like its predecessor. What I did remember of 154 the first (and probably only) time I heard it was that they reinvented themselves all over again, and I wasn't happy with the results. But with a different outlook on Wire's post-Pink Flag output, I could come in to 154 the second time around with a more appreciative ear.
The first thing that strikes me is the ever-increasing presence of bassist and vocalist, Graham Lewis. While his name appears in the credits a couple of times on the previous two records, he is responsible for writing close to half the songs here. And whereas we usually hear him contribute with the occasional back-up vocals, on 154 he takes lead on all the songs he wrote. As admirable as it is that Wire continually updates their sound, this time by adding a new voice to the fold, I'm just not sure I'll ever warm up to Lewis's gothic, spoken-word style lead vocals.
However I learned my lesson with Chairs Missing not to give up on a Wire album based off of a few listens. The two previous records didn't floor me on first impression, and 154 is no different. By the time I got acquainted with a few of Colin Newman's tracks, I found myself adding them to my favorite playlist. No matter how punk rock Wire might be, Newman can write a killer pop hook, as evidenced in "the 15th."
154 could include Newman's softest material to date, but it's all pretty phenomenal. And songs like "On Returning" and "Map Ref 41°N 93°W" also have that defining Wire punk-rock sound I've grown so fond off.
I'm definitely going to be keeping this record, I already like the "Newman half" of it. As for Graham, I'm just not a fan of his work like I am Newman's, or both of theirs collaboratively. Still, I hated Chairs Missing for quite a while, and now I think it just about matches Pink Flag punch for punch. So maybe I'll revisit this yet again a year or so down the road and absolutely love it.