DESPITE WHAT'S COME since then, Wire is still constantly tied to the early UK punk scene, thanks to the quartet's jagged and cutting 1977 debut album Pink Flag.
Although they did emerge from that potent soup of gob spit and youthful disquiet, the band—singer/guitarist Colin Newman, bassist/vocalist Graham Lewis, drummer Robert Grey, and guitarist Bruce Gilbert—quickly moved beyond that world using surrealism and Dadaism as leaping-off points into more artful and psychedelic fare (see their 1979 masterpiece 154).
Wire's evolution since then has been fascinating to witness. They took a break in the early '80s only to reemerge toward the end of the decade as a pseudo-pop band, releasing six albums of synthesizer-fueled discomfort and beauty. A second hiatus kept them apart for a 10-year stretch, but since 2000 the group has maintained a steady stream of output that serves to connect the varying threads of their previous incarnations, in ways both delicate and vicious.
Of late, the band has taken an almost Warholian course of musical action. Like the pop artist's silkscreens, Wire has been going over older material—the title track to their first LP and their 1986 song "Drill"—and adding new colors and approaches (including a live version of "Pink Flag" that included 30 guitarists) to bring out previously unseen nuances. And for their 2013 album Change Becomes Us, the group (now featuring guitarist Matthew Simms, who replaced Gilbert) rebuilt material initially sketched out for live performances back in 1980.
Newman, though, brushes aside attempts to ascribe any deliberate philosophy to his band's recent work. "It would be very easy to attach a bunch of theories to this," he says, speaking from his home in London. "'It was material that needed to be resolved, and it was cathartic for us to do it.' Really it was just a project to see if we could do it. The backstory is interesting only if you have an interest in the perverse."
Wire's approach to looking backward these days fits very well with their ongoing modus operandi of dealing with the past on their terms.
In their '80s incarnation, they refused to play any older work live, bringing a Wire cover band on tour to handle it for them. And when they first returned to Portland in 2002, the oldest song they played ("Lowdown") felt distorted and macabre. They even delved into the world of playing a "classic album" in full, but only one time and in collaboration with visual artists Jake and Dinos Chapman.
"The point we've been trying to make is that Wire's a contemporary band," says Newman. "We're not afraid of our past and happy to play older songs in our set. But when it comes down to it, it's about now. Nostalgia is just weird."
Wire is, then, already looking ahead. They plan to record an album of all new material, which will hopefully move them toward the official 40th birthday of the band in 2017.
"I've not known the band to be in a more forward-thinking frame of mind," says Newman. "Previous tours would usually end with at least one of us saying they don't want to see the rest of the band for the rest of their life. Now, they're excited about the future and what comes next. It's a great situation to be in."