As part of the 33 1/3 series, Wilson Neate offers both a critical appreciation and analysis of a classic British punk album.
Given an urbane, conversational performance by Julian Elfer, Wire's 'Pink Flag' mixes the author’s own memories of Britain’s punk era with interviews with the band members on their formation and the creation of their 1977 album, and Neate’s own critical insights into an album that effectively melded punk-rock angst with art-school style.
Highlighted by Elfer’s ear-pleasing British accent, this audiobook is a must-listen for any fans of Wire or British punk music.
In contrast with many of their punk peers, Wire were enigmatic and cerebral, always keeping a distance from the crowd. Although Pink Flag appeared before the end of 1977, it was already a meta-commentary on the punk scene and was far more revolutionary musically than the rest of the competition. Few punk bands moved beyond pared-down rock 'n' roll and garage rock, football-terrace sing-alongs or shambolic pub rock and, if we're honest, only a handful of punk records hold up today as anything other than increasingly quaint period pieces. While the majority of their peers flogged one idea to death and paid only lip service to punk's Year Zero credo, Wire took a genuinely radical approach, deconstructing song conventions, exploring new possibilities and consistently reinventing their sound. "THIS IS A CHORD. THIS IS ANOTHER. THIS IS A THIRD. NOW FORM A BAND", proclaimed the caption to the famous diagram in a UK fanzine in 1976 and countless punk acts embodied that do-it-yourself spirit. Wire, however, showed more interesting ways of doing it once you'd formed that band and they found more compelling uses for those three mythical chords.
©2008 Wilson Neate (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Say something about yourself!
I've read several books in the 33 1/3 series and this one is probably the best. In reading these I really want to find an appreciation and analysis of the albums being treated. In some cases there's more focus on biography than I'd like (Unknown Pleasures), analysis that seems off base or out of left field (Led Zeppelin IV), or just outright weirdness (Master of Reality, though that one's actually pretty good if you're open to something experimental). Wilson Neate's book on Pink Flag has just the right mix of ingredients.
The first portion of the book deals primarily with what might be considered biographical information about the players involved, but the focus is kept on those details that relate to the musical development or creative ambitions of the band members. Much of this detail comes straight from the band and quotes are used extensively.
The book also covers the recording of Pink Flag. The recording process gets a treatment, the role of the producer is discussed, and the author goes into a lot of detail about decisions made in the studio, changes in songs from earlier demo versions, and so on. If you have any interest in Wire, I think you'll find all of this very interesting.
A song-by-song analysis and appreciation is included in the later part of the book. The author covers each song and, unlike many other books of this type, the focus isn't just on the lyrics. While lyrics are covered, song structures, instrumentation, and decisions about musical direction also receive treatment. After listening to the book, I was able to go back to Pink Flag and appreciate it with different ears.
The book closes with a section on modern day squabbles between bandmates about songwriting credit. Contrasting their current positions with their 1977-era ideas about shared authorship was probably meant to further illustrate their approach in the Pink Flag days, but it left something of a bad taste in my mouth.
The narrator does a fine job and has a refined British manner of speech that fits the book's content. Aside from one or two small quibbles (he says "twelve x u" over and over -- isn't it "one two x u"?) I was very satisfied with the narration.
Don't hesitate to pick this one up if you're a Wire fan.
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