One of the many great things about Wire‘s late-career renaissance has been the sound of a near-40-year old band revisiting and reinterpreting their back catalogue as older, and presumably wiser, men.
Red Barked Tree and Change Becomes Us saw them having another go at the angular post-punk of their classic early albums to mostly wonderful effect; and now the concise eight-track Nocturnal Koreans, like its 2015 predecessor WIRE, sees them return to the sound of their inexplicably underrated mid-1980s Mute albums.
In fact, the tracks that make up Nocturnal Koreans were recorded during the WIRE sessions and either didn’t make the cut or were considered worthy of an album of their own; the quality is such that it is clear these are no b-sides or offcuts and like WIRE, this is Wire on tip-top form.
The title track, all Krautrock rhythms, jangly guitars and hallucinatory lyrics (“Nocturnal Koreans are walking the halls…”) would’ve fitted most easily onto WIRE; the rest of the first half of the album is somewhat more downbeat, with the 3/4 ‘Internal Exile’ recalling 1988’s ‘The Queen of Ur & the King of Um‘ and ‘Forward Position‘ stripping the music right down to little more than skeletal guitar and ghostly ambient keyboard washes, a perfect backdrop for Colin Newman’s plaintive “I am black box, I remember every promise that you broke.”
The album’s middle is particularly strong, with the spiky ‘Numbered‘, which seems to be a riposte to those fans/critics still obsessed with the Wire of 154 & Pink Flag (“You think I’m a number/Still willing to rumba…“), closely followed by ‘Still‘, one of the most commercial things the band have ever done, from its Tony McCarroll drums to its almost – almost – anthemic chorus.
But this is Wire of course, so just when you think they’re finally attempting to cross over, they remind you who and what they really are: “Our African sisters have a spiritual plan/They follow the teachings of a triangular man” sings Colin Newman over a one-note bass riff on the brilliant ‘Pilgrim Trade‘; whilst album closer ‘Fishes’ Bones‘ gradually builds to a climax reminiscent of their classic ‘Drill‘, whilst Graham Lewis free-associates on top of it all (“The back door’s open, are you needing a boost? Inside is where my chickens roost“) and you realise Wire will never, ever be on the cover of Q or on the main stage at Glastonbury – and that that is why, after nearly 40 years, they remain so damn special.