You’d think that 44 years and 18 studio albums into their celebrated career, British post-punk vets Wire would be down for taking it easy. They certainly have nothing to prove. From the 1977 Pink Flag debut, the Londoners have done things their way, and never caved to scenes and trends. As a result, they’ve remained one of the most interesting bands on the broader punk landscape. “I Am the Fly” from the ’78 sophomore album Chairs Missing is one of the all-time greats.
That said, Wire have always challenged themselves, if only for their only artistic satisfaction. Later albums don’t receive the recognition they deserve, yet they’re always fascinating. 1991’s The Drill, for example, saw them pretty much remixing the same song over and over again for an hour. And damn, they didn’t put out a self-titled record until 2014, their 14th.
So here we are in a messy-as-fuck 2020, and Wire have already released an album this year: January’s Mind Hive. That was no gap-filler either; fans and critics agreed that Wire are still firing. Yet only three months later, word was out that another album, this 10:20, was being released on vinyl only for Record Store Day. So what is it? Odds and sods? Rejects? Almost, kinda:
“The release features songs the band refers to as ‘strays’,” reads a press release. “These are recordings of pieces that couldn’t be accommodated on regular albums, as well as compositions that — following their original studio recording — evolved substantially through live performance, and so deserved a new life on record.”
That’s worrying, right? Oftentimes, these rejected tunes are rejected for good reason. But bear in mind the fact that Wire’s albums ordinarily flow, they function as a complete body of work rather than a collection of songs. It appears that the songs on here were rejected because the band couldn’t make them fit into the record of the time, rather than because they’re shitty.
They’re not shitty. 10:20 proves that Wire’s “junk” folder is better than most bands’ best work. And here’s the really weird bit — somehow, these songs do flow. Nothing seems out of place here, nothing seems shoehorned. And the songs, such as “Boiling Boy,” that they say evolved over time sound completely fresh today.
“Underwater Experiences” was demoed for the aforementioned Chairs Missing but ultimately, probably wisely, omitted. But here, four decades later, it sounds lush, harsh and magnificent.
That sits alongside material recorded more recently by the current lineup that includes guitarist Matthew Simms, and again that time gap doesn’t jar at all. One of those newer tunes, “Small Black Reptile,” is arguably the best song on the album.
10:20 is a fantastic addition to the Wire catalog. Some might say that it’s an unexpected success but, at this point, we should know better.