I’m all grey hair, down-turned chapped lips and dead eyes these days – a recently taken photograph revealed that my late evening face can be, frankly, horrifying. I curse the relative cheapness of multi-mega-pixel digital cameras and their availability from all good and many shit electronic retailers. In short, I’m beginning to look the age I feel inside: some years more than what my birth certificate states and much closer to the dreaded_ insert-dreaded-number-of-choice _than I should be given my beardless chops. Believe me, I’ve tried: like trying to grow marigolds in the desert.
These circumstances have led me to – nay, forced me to – find my daily dose of youthful exuberance in popular music and nowhere else: I don’t extreme sport; I don’t binge-drink, much; and I don’t have a fantastically energetic personal life. I say ‘popular’ music, but as I creep closer to middle age – a mile on paper but a tip-toe in my mind – it becomes more and more obvious that the finest thrills are to be found below the radar of the mainstream; I’m not saying that what passes for pop today is inferior, as such, to the rock I’m rolling to predominantly, just that tired ears need something truly explosive, truly fiery and furious and all teeth and no gums to stoke what little fires still burn within. And Wires On Fire are more than capable of setting one’s face ablaze.
Broken down to its basic components, this self-titled debut album – it follows 2005’s Homewrecker EP and a split with Mean Reds – is little to scream ‘til you’re hoarse about: it’s punk rock fuzzed up and fucked up, guttural gargles and indecipherable lyrics barked with all the rage of a father arriving home to find his family tied and gagged, all the heirlooms lifted and the cat pinned to the wall with kitchen knives. It is, on paper, a by-the-book exercise in itchy guitars crunched into splinters, drums thwacked with the incessancy of a prize fighter pummelling an on-the-ropes opponent, and vocals that aren’t gruff but grrrreeeeerrrraaaaauuuufffff. But it is also, in my mind, the most scintillating long-player to fight its way out of Los Angeles’ greasy belly button since The Icarus Line’s Mono.
Evan Weiss makes me want to sucker punch the guy next to me on the Tube every morning just because he looks more awake than I am; his screams, lurches and sneers here are like nothing heard for a fuck-off long time. Remember when you thought the first Bronx album was brilliant, ‘cause it was _so_ pissed off? This is more pissed; Evan sounds like a man teetering on the very edge of chaos, the drop below him endless and the violence he could deal out to all and sundry in his flailing way immeasurable in black-blue bruising. Jeff Lyn plays his guitar like it’s not an instrument but a dying buddy deep in enemy territory: he plays like he’s trying to restart a heart that wasn’t there before a few atoms overheard this blood-rushing record and decided to get their act together in a totally organic fashion.
Jeff even gets his own song here, opener ‘Death To Jeff Lyn’. “It’s all gone to hell,” screams Evan. On the album’s first song. “Can’t you smell courage? Or can you smell fear?” First song. Fuckin’ awesome.
Confidence, though, isn’t something at a premium here, and any fear soon dissipates: a song later and Wires On Fire are drawing lines – “Godamnit they’re mine” – in the sand and pouring concrete all over ‘em, solidifying where they stand and where we take it; they’re laying foundations deep and sturdy, and utterly essential given this record’s bucking and bawling nature. It’s scribbling doodled nightmares over America’s rock and roll dreams and spitting blood into the eyes of those stupid enough to take the money and the fame without a second thought for their own soul. “I don’t buy a word of what you sold,” they say; “I’m sick of all the sounds… We used to be alive.”
Used to? Nothing heard for some months, by these ears, has sounded so alive; no record has made this heart beat so fast, these hands clench into fists primed for assailant defence, these hairs stand to attention like soldiers with five minutes to live before scaling the trench wall. This record is everything while it plays: it’s your past, present and future; it’s your morning, noon and night; it’s your sweat-soaked sheets and failed aspirations distilled and delivered straight down your throat. Wires On Fire are clawing your jaws wide open; this, their medicine, will make you feel better.
Because all the worst-tasting stuff in the world is meant to make you feel better, and to ninety-nine per cent of the record-buying public Wires On Fire possesses all the appeal of a Bovril enema; it does taste bad. But… the but is coming. Buying this album won’t make you popular. It won’t make the hot girl in class talk to you, and the sporty head boy won’t suddenly select you for the football team. Buying this record won’t turn your grey black, lift the sacks under your eyes or remedy the nagging sense of déjà vu that manifests itself in your ear canals every day, at least three or four times. It ain’t rocket science, it ain’t winning any prizes, and it ain’t influencing tomorrow’s punk-rockers. It’s sick of all the sounds, but its own aren’t entirely revelatory: it’s Wives with broader melodies.
But… fuck, it makes me feel absolutely electric, the most alive for years, invincible.
9Mike Diver's Score