06. The Ideal Copy (1987)
It’s tricky enough for most bands to get a comeback album right, but Wire pulled it off twice. The first one, The Ideal Copy, was almost certainly a result of a five-year period of personal exploration. The band’s members spent most of the ’80s on their own respective artistic walkabouts, with Colin Newman and Bruce Gilbert releasing a series of solo albums, while Gilbert and Graham Lewis took on experimental material as Cupol, Dome and Duet Emmo — in more or less that order. So when Wire finally reconvened with 1987’s The Ideal Copy, so much had transpired since 154 — and indeed so much had changed for each musician individually — that they weren’t exactly the same band whose late-‘70s triptych had redefined punk and post-punk three times over. When Wire resumed playing live, they didn’t play any old material, instead leaving that up to a Wire cover band that toured with them, called the Ex Lion Tamers. Out of a combination of both stubbornness and an intense craving for reinvention, Wire started up again with a blank slate.
And yet, The Ideal Copy still retains the faintest shadow of the art-punk cubism that the group scraped onto 154’s canvas. The ominous, gothic tones of the Graham-Lewis-led “Feed Me” mirror some of that album’s more abstract juxtapositions of electronics and spoken word. And the woozy, proto-shoegaze textures of “Over Theirs” faintly echo the guitar shards and jerky rhythms of the group’s late ’70s peak. But what mostly defines the album is the updated, late ’80s sheen that blankets every song, and with mostly satisfying results. In particular, lead single “Ahead” is where Wire comes closest to becoming New Order, wherein Graham Lewis’ high-on-the-neck bassline draws a parallel to Peter Hook’s signature style. Glossy, in this case, doesn’t necessarily denote commercial, however, and one dynamite single doesn’t stop Wire from making the rest of the album uniquely — and accessibly — weird. As peculiar and sometimes frustrating as Wire’s second act would become, it certainly started out strong.