Picks and Pans Review: Commercial Suicide

UPDATED 08/17/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/17/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

Colin Newman

In Chuck Berry's worst nightmares he probably never dreamed that something called rock music could ever be as cerebral as these two releases. Comparing Berry to Colin Newman or Wire is like comparing Beethoven's symphonies to the strange orchestral music of Elliott Carter. It's the same basic genre perhaps, but, man, what a difference. Never quite a household name, Wire became one of the most influential British art/punk bands on the basis of four records released between 1977 and 1980. Since then Wire's four members, including lead singer Newman, have released only solo albums. The Ideal Copy, the result of Wire's long-discussed reunion, shows one remaining link to punk: These guys still like to give listeners a really hard time. Witness the lyrics, which seem to come from beyond the valley of the obscure. It's unlikely that such lines as "A grand mute proof at Nemert Dag" will ever grace the pages of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. The melodies and backup sound are made to match: controlled, hollow and emotionless. Without getting any less esoteric, Newman makes much more appealing noises on his solo album. His artful variations on repeated musical themes become hypnotic instead of tedious; his prosaic lyrics overflow with so much meaning that they sound as if they were lifted from a philosophy text. In 2-Sixes Newman chants, "All things that function under the constraints of what went before may not be the only possibility. There's always the chance of something new, of something that hasn't happened in a long time." Madonna, say, or Springsteen could never get away with spitting out such a mouthful, but Newman makes it work. Because he challenges listeners without scaring them away, he hasn't committed commercial suicide either. Maybe he and his Wire mates mixed up their album titles by mistake. (Enigma)

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