Wire were born at the dawn of punk, but they became the quintessential art band. In the three closing years of the 1970s, the English quartet had one of the greatest opening runs of any band, shifting to post-punk before punk began to go stale and forging three masterpieces in a creative furnace so hot it burned out by the end of 1980. Those albums-- Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154-- still sound remarkably fresh, and have been re-mastered and reissued with their original vinyl tracklistings, both individually and as part of a five-disc set, 1977>1979, that also includes live performances recorded in London (in 1977) and New York (1978).
Pink Flag was a fractured snapshot of punk alternately collapsing in on itself and exploding into song-fragment shrapnel. The record's minimalist approach means the band spends only as much time as needed on each song-- five of them are over in less than a minute, while a further nine don't make it past two. It's clear you're not getting a typical 1977 punk record from the opening seconds of "Reuters", an echoing bass line that quickly comes under attack by ringing but dissonant guitar chords. The tempo is arrested, lurching along to the climactic finale when Colin Newman, as the narrating correspondent, shouts "Looting! Burning!" and then holds out the lone syllable of "rape" twice over descending chords, which grind to a halt over chanting voices. It's all the bombast, tension, and release of a side-long prog opus in just three minutes.
As if to underscore that this isn't a predictable album, the next song, "Field Day For the Sundays", rages to a close in just 28 seconds. The band acknowledges the thin line between advertising jingles and pop songs on the 49-second instrumental "The Commercial", but also write a few genuinely hummable songs, like "Three Girl Rhumba", whose guitar part is actually more of a tango, and the more identifiably punk "Ex-Lion Tamer". "Strange," meanwhile, makes the mistake of sticking around, only to be eaten by spacey amp noise and quivering ambience-- a taste of things to come.