Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wire - Pink Flag

Release Date: December, 1977

★★★★★ Tracks:

Three Girl Rhumba

Ex Lion Tamer



I picked up this bad boy on vinyl a while back, as it's simply one of the best punk records ever. Pink Flag practically invented an entire genre of punk-rock and hardcore that blew up in the 80's. Black Flag and its most prominent member, Henry Rollins, list them as an influence. The Circle Jerks, Gorilla Biscuits, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and many, many others are direct disciples of Pink Flag, borrowing the moody punk sound and the brisk song length. And I'm pretty sure you could find a teenage Ian MacKaye playing guitar in his bedroom, spinning this record, probably drawing "X's" on his hands, and gathering ideas for two of the 80's and 90's most influential alternative groups, Minor Threat and Fugazi. "Lowdown" especially sounds like it could fit in one of Fugazi's early records:

Before Pink Flag was released in 1977, punk rock was still in its stages of infancy, and at that time still upbeat and poppy for the most part. The Ramones were said to have been channeling pop and surf rock from the Beach Boys, surely most of us hear traces of the Kinks and the Stones when listening to the Sex Pistols, and the Clash we're experimenting with some of the most upbeat music you could find in reggae. While all these artists we're punk's founders, Wire expanded its boundaries even further. Yea, they continued in the tradition of politicizing the lyrics and building a lot of their tracks using the increasingly popular "power chord." But make no mistake about it, Wire added their very own take to the genre. First, they stripped the music down to it a very raw form: one guitar, one bass guitar, drums, and vocals, sometimes talked, sometimes sang, and sometimes screamed. With all the pieces in place, Wire crafted Pink Flag to be even heavier than any of the punk rock that preceded it, which many found -- with all of the guitar distortion, fast drum beats and blaring vocals -- to be overbearing to the ears already. They also condensed songs in to incredibly tiny packets, with five tracks clocking in at under 1:00, and only three (out of 21) over the 3:00 mark, none pass 4:00. The compact, short, guitar-driven track, and the emphasis of lyrics focusing on the decay of the democratic society would, and continues to be, a staple of punk rock music. Here's "Field Day For the Sundays," clocking in at a whopping 28 seconds (the youtube clip takes 5 seconds before the track begins):

"I wanna be a field day for the Sundays so they can fuck up my life.
Embarass my wife, and leave a bad taste.
That striped toothpaste can't remove on Monday mornings.
I wanna be a target for the dailies so they can show.
Pictures of me with a nude on page three, so lacking in taste.
Touched up near the waist, looking as limp as Monday morning."

Wire don't completely snub pop-lovers. With Pink Flag covering 21 tracks, there are a few upbeat songs that break the album's mostly brooding tone up nicely. And their most radio-friendly song on the album, "Mannequin," turns out to be my favorite of them all. Maybe that makes me some sort of poser, but c'mon, click below and tell me this isn't catchy! The lyrics, focusing on a person singer Colin Newman does not hold in high regard, contrasts the instrumentation with a good sense of humor.

There is no reason a self-proclaimed punk fan shouldn't give this record a few spins, at the very least. If you're a child of the 80's and 90's, and ever listened to Minor Threat, Fugazi, NOFX... shit, even Rancid or the Offspring, you are doing those bands a disservice by not seeking out their biggest influences: Wire, Ramones, Sex Pistols, and yes, the Clash (I'm not a huge fan of the Clash, so there goes my cred right out the window, I'm sure you'll tell me. But stick around and we'll get there eventually.). I could see strictly pop lovers having some reservations with a record full of heavy-hitting, politically and socialistically charged 1:00 long punk tracks. But Pink Flag would eventually be an influence on the pop world as well: I don't think Green Day would be where they are now, American Idiot Broadway show and all, without the contributions of Wire, and especially Pink Flag.

Three Girl Rhumba video on tumblr.

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