mute records | 2xlp/cd stumm116 | 05/1993
1985 – 1990: The A List was released in 1993, by which time Wire as a four-piece band were no more. Robert Gotobed had left the band by the time The First Letter was released in 1991, the band ditching the last letter of their name and becoming Wir for that album. Wir themselves then promptly called it quits, leaving behind two further tracks which were released on Touch as the Vien single in 1997.
This is a compilation album of tracks recorded by Wire between the Snakedrill EP and the Drill album that included new versions and live takes of the amorphous-lengthed track that proved to be Eighties Wire’s mainstay, its relentless dugga-dugga-dugga rhythm providing the foundation for their material for Mute. So, yes, a compilation, but one with a difference: according to the sleeve notes, ‘The A List was drawn up by asking various compilers to name their “top 21” Wire tracks in order of preference. They were then arranged on a “football league” basis. The final choice and running order are based on this chart and the maximum time of a CD. There have been no edits.’
Those contributing to the vote included the band’s Colin Newman and his wife and Githead accomplice Malka Spigel, Bruce Gilbert‘s chum Russell Haswell, Touch co-founder Jon Wozencroft (who also did the typography for the album), Wire biographer Kevin Eden, England’s Dreaming author and punk authority Jon Savage and Mute’s Roland Brown, and for completeness the entire distribution of votes is included within the sleeve notes. The A List was compiled and edited by Brown, Newman and Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.
The result is a showcase of just how strong Wire’s body of work was in the Eighties. While the purist post-punk fans would no doubt bitterly complain that Wire had more or less left their late Seventies intensity and creativity behind, the Wire that reformed and signed to Mute in the mid-Eighties delivered a high quality pop-inflected ethos mixed in with some of the strangest lyrics that have ever been committed to record. So what if the snarling guitars had been left behind – that was yesterday’s news. The new tracks (mostly) had a smart sound, infused with greater use of technology, while the wry artsiness that dominated Wire’s trio of albums for Harvest / EMI was never more than a sneer away.
The only criticism I have of The A List is that ‘The Boiling Boy’ didn’t make the grade. The version of the track that appeared on IBTABA is probably my favourite track from Eighties Wire, a slow-developing, graceful but strangely linear piece (it scraped into number #56 on the league table with just 29 votes). However, this album was the product of a resolute democracy – how typically Wire to create a compilation this way – and thus I shouldn’t question its exclusion too much. It’s certainly a more considered compilation than the equivalent sweep-up of Seventies Wire, On Returning, which Harvest put out in 1989.
For sharp-eyed completists, note that this was given a stumm catalogue number, rather than the mutel mark used by Mute for some artist compilations.
A1. / 1. Ahead
A2. / 2. Kidney Bingos
A3. / 3. A Serious Of Snakes
A4. / 4. Eardrum Buzz
B1. / 5. Drill
B2. / 6. Ambitious
B3. / 7. In Vivo (Remix)
B4. / 8. The Finest Drops
C1. / 9. Madman’s Honey
C2. / 10. Over Theirs
C3. / 11. Silk Skin Paws
C4. / 12. The Queen Of Ur & The King Of Um
D1. / 13. Torch It!
D2. / 14. Advantage In Height
D3. / 15. Point Of Collapse
D4. / 16. Feed Me
First published 2012; edited 2014
(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence