Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wire - Chairs Missing

Release Date: August, 1978

★★★★★ Tracks:

Another the Letter


Outdoor Miner

I downloaded Chairs Missing soon after I heard Pink Flag, looking forward to another 18 tracks of chaotic punk rock. But that's not anything close to what I got. Where's all that sloppy guitar distortion I loved? Where's the speed? What happened to the minute long punk songs? What's with the synthesizer? What the hell happened to Wire?! After a few spins I shelved it (or unchecked it, in iTunes terms), thinking Wire had gone soft. And I came in to this post fully prepared to take a nice bloggy shit all over Chairs Missing.

After my first time re-listening through, sometime last week, I was still pretty sure I felt the same way about it. By the second time, without my knowing it, my foot, like it had a mind of its own, began tapping to the slow-building momentum of "Heartbeat." As I noticed I quickly stopped myself, cursing at my foot for sending conflicting thoughts to my mind. Now I couldn't help but pay closer attention, and almost to my dismay, I found bits and pieces of songs I began to like: "Another the Letter's" synths were actually great, "Men 2nd" had a great guitar riff and a distinct rockabilly feel to it. And then I got to "Outdoor Miner," something of an ode to Velvet Underground, and I was hooked. I woke up the next morning and all I could think was 'I can't wait to play Chairs Missing on my commute to work.' No use resisting it.

You got me Wire.

Chairs Missing is easily one of the strangest records I have ever heard. The first track, "Practice Makes Perfect," sounds like it could be the background music to a horror film, with eerie guitars and click-calickity drums, demonic sounding laughter, and ever-increasing panic in Colin's voice as he screams "Waiting for us!," which slowly builds in to anti-climactic chaos. It's not even close to one of my favorites on the album, and exemplifies why first impressions based off of one song can really hurt a record's chances of ever reeling you in. But isn't it ballsy to start off your sophomore release with a track as weird as this one?

"French Film Blurred" begins with another dark, creepy guitar riff and combines with Colin Newman's gloomy voice, and again, it consistently builds but never quite punches it home. The first thrown changeup and a personal favorite comes next, the synth fueled 1:08 long, "Another the Letter." "Men 2nd" gives us a reminder Wire is a punk rock band before we're warped back in to yet another anti-climactic track in "Marooned," a disturbing song about a sailor. And by now one might gather one of Wire's primary intentions for Chairs Missing -- to make a record of constant chaotic tension and unease; to create a sort of musical anxiety that is rarely relaxed. The best track on Chairs Missing and one of the best examples of Wire's intentions is "Heartbeat," which has the feel that it's going to break loose at any moment, but just adds a sliver of a payoff. It makes it all the more addicting to keep coming back to:

"I feel icy
I feel cold
I feel old
Is there something here behind me?
I'm sublime

I feel empty
I feel dark
I remark
I am mesmerized
By my own beat
Like a heartbeat
(In it's own beat)"

Wire add a couple upbeat and not-so-gloomy tracks in to the mix as well, and somehow they fit in perfectly. "Sand In My Joints" and "Another the Letter" are examples but "Outdoor Miner" is the biggest outlier. A throwback to the 60's, it's probably the poppiest song Wire had written yet:

There's no doubting Chairs Missing isn't for everyone. Shit, it wasn't even for me until just last week. To say this album requires patience is a vast understatement, and an interesting exercise on how easily I/we can give up on a record based off of minimal exposure. Once I found a couple of tracks to latch on to, I really began to appreciate what Wire was attempting to create: a slow-building, tense and creepy art-rock record that rewards listeners for repeated listens. I can see how Wire continues to influence modern rock with Chairs Missing. I hear Fugazi again in "Heartbeat," I hear TV On the Radio in "Used To," I can hear its influence on goth and industrial rock, and I can still hear those punk rock roots embedded within. While Pink Flag still has the upper hand, Chairs Missing, just from my time with it in the past week, has definitely become the more interesting record of the two. I'm not quite sure I've ever experience a rock record quite as weird as Chairs Missing, and I'm not sure I ever will.

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