One side of me gets so up in arms when I see Wire described as “art punk” on Wikipedia. After all, punk rock, at its mid-’70s onset (into which Wire themselves fed a key tinge of reckless abandon), was the anti-art — the dumb, loud and glorious reaction to the contrived, style-over-substance world of art rock. It seems like such an oxymoron, that is.
But then, dually, Wire are a band that quietly released seven albums during last decade, and are wasting no time working themselves into the 2020s canon with Mind Hive, a 34-minute rock album with this sort of quiet sense of gravity, not unlike 2011’s deliberate and almost folky Red Barked Trees. Such a stark sort of magnetic appeal, in tandem with the band’s incredibly prolific output, obviates without question that this is a band taking themselves with utmost seriousness these days, somewhat like a reclusive art student who spends every waking hour transcribing Les Miserables on his apartment wall.
And obviously, herein lies the essential sort of Wire conundrum these days — they’re definitely not a “punk” band anymore, as Mind Hive in fitting with their last handful of albums crawls along at a general pace more fitting of cocktail parties than mosh pits. Save for a couple of visceral stabs in the gloomy opening dirge “Be Like Them,” the band coasts at a medium volume with about the intensity of a more stoned-out reincarnation of the Pixies. “Cactused” is a hypnotic romp that gives us a pretty concerted taste of synthy new-wave, ironically, a style that Wire would have presumably scoffed at in its contemporariness, as embedded as they were in the underground. But this is still far from pop, with the rhythm section mixed to the forefront with just about the prominence of Colin Newman’s vocals, which seem almost obstinately esoteric and un-virtuosic (or “punk,” in short).
Mind Hive is sequenced masterfully, with the first four tracks all providing important outbursts of energy, to then give way to two especially spare, lugubrious numbers in the middle. After that, we get the decidedly bizarre slab of cathartic alt-rock “Oklahoma,” in which Newman seems to be sort of vaguely hurling plaintive neuroses at some party he must have encountered on a tour, all culminating in the unsettling tidbit that “It’s true / I was dying”. “Hung” is a funky, multifarious beast that would have made a classic closeur but instead comes penultimately, with Graham Lewis’ bass burping along methodically but boisterously and Matthew Simms hammering out from his guitar what sounds like the same animalistic shrieking that Peter Buck used throughout R.E.M.’s freak of nature known as “Leave.” All in all, Mind Hive offers what’s certainly by punk standards a favorably commendable variety of sounds and techniques, with its ability to drift through your mind elliptically like a tidal ebb and flow marking the crux of its signature.