You’d be hard-pressed to name another band whose technical and sonic progression within the first three years of recorded output demonstrate as stunning an evolution as that of the British post-punk group Wire. Beginning with their excellent, forward-thinking debut, Pink Flag, in 1977, followed quickly by the somewhat artier and emotionally broader Chairs Missing in 1978, and concluding with 1979’s often moody and innovative 154, Wire’s exhilarating initial trifecta of studio albums helped characterize the act as one whose members were not going to be easily pigeonholed stylistically. The band’s current lineup finds three quarters of that original group firmly intact. Guitarist Bruce Gilbert departed the band in the mid-aughts to explore solo projects and collaborations, and since 2010 his position has been occupied by Matthew Simms.
Mind Hive opens with “Be Like Them”, a song that utilizes three quick blasts to punctuate each line uttered by Colin Newman in a way similar to Chairs Missing’s “Being Sucked in Again”. The album’s pounding opener finds Newman analogizing “hungry cats” and “rabid dogs” to warn against mindless conformity. “Be Like Them’s” tone is starkly contrasted with its successor, which also happens to be the album’s first single. “Cactused” is comparatively upbeat and includes a catchy chorus backed with oohs and ahs. It’s a bold sequencing choice that pays off surprisingly well given the song’s strikingly darker antecedent. The first third of Mind Hive is concluded with the synth-driven “Primed and Ready”. The track is a mover that dips into minor chords, adding a feeling of discomfort and menace.
The surprisingly bright and jangly “Off the Beach” lifts things nicely just before Mind Hive’s centerpiece, the five-minute ballad “Unrepentant”. Things are slowed down and mellowed out considerably here. Newman’s vocals take on an uncharacteristically lilting quality as he lightly sings lines like, “Numbers can reveal their song, harbors where we once belonged, sailings for the greater good, nurturing what we should.” “Shadows” sustains Mind Hive’s balladic moment, offering up an atypically gentle Newman. The odd “Oklahoma” has Graham Lewis taking over lead vocal duties for the first time on the album. Lewis’ emotive voice is on full display, and time has only heightened the impact of his eccentric, sonorous baritone. Mind Hive’s penultimate moment is the epic “Hung”. The eight-minute track builds slowly and maintains a tense, pulsing bassline over siren-like keyboard effects and distortion. Newman finishes things off in fine form on the album’s tender finale, “Humming”, with Lewis’ vocals returning only briefly for an abbreviated spoken piece in the song’s last half-minute.
After more than forty years, Wire’s seventeenth release finds Colin Newman and company continuing to push each other creatively while holding fast to the band’s member’s signature strengths, both lyrically and musically, in order to deliver a collection that manages to sound simultaneously familiar and fresh. Mind Hive is a solid record that will satisfy fans of Wire’s earliest material and provide newer listeners with a generous sampling of the bold and idiosyncratic compositional traits that have come to influence and inspire countless artists over the last four decades.