October 25, 2001

Ed's Underground

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This 1977 punk classic was Wire’s debut — hard to believe, because it’s one of the most assured and powerful first albums ever. These punk rockers crafted tight, minimalist tunes with an emphasis on strong instrumental interplay and catchy but fractured melodies. Pink Flag delivers plenty of both, and does it as quickly as possible — the band churns out 21 songs in 40 minutes, to give you an idea of just how quickly.

Few bands could pull off the cocky swagger of songs like “Ex-Lion Tamer,” which features the memorable refrain, “All the milk bottles stand empty/ stay glued to your TV set.” On this song, as on the whole album, the band backs up Colin Newman’s sneering vocals with the grinding rumble of B.C. Gilbert’s muscular guitar, the deadly thump of Graham Lewis’ bass, and the creative time-keeping of Robert Gotobed on drums.

“Lowdown” is another highlight, building to a bridge with loud squalls of feedback. The slow bump-and-grind of “Strange” is similarly devastating. Where R.E.M. covered the song as an upbeat rocker (for their 1987 Document album), here it’s displayed in its original ugly, snarling glory — the kind of song you’d find crouching in a back alley gripping a bottle of booze in a paper bag.

The title track is a succinct anti-war declaration, culminating in the angry question, “How many dead or alive in 1955?” Just as powerful are the anthemic “Reuters” and the dynamic “Three Girl Rhumba.” In fact, it’s probably one of the most consistent punk albums of all time, with every track hitting hard and fast from the first time you hear it — and it only gets better with time. The band is just melodic enough to avoid dissonance, and each of these songs is packed with sharp hooks and energetic playing. Pink Flag is an essential cornerstone to any punk fan’s collection — and a great start for would-be punks.

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