Wire: Pink Flag (1977)

While perhaps garnering less attention in the US at the time, Wire were as essential a part of the early UK punk scene as the Clash, the Pistols, the Buzzcocks and the Jam.  Their 1977 debut is truly epic, losing none of its force over the intervening years, somehow managing to harness the same raw, stripped down energy of those other bands while introducing some of the weirdness and experimentalism that would flourish on their later albums.  Their initial 3-album run from '77-'79 was perfect, the band moving quickly from the exuberance of Pink Flag to the more mature and arty Chairs Missing into the dark and haunting 154 (probably my personal favorite of the three) and then dutifully disappearing.  They returned in the mid 80s with a completely different sound, electronic and less forceful but still groundbreaking, managing to endure into the present day with a slew of far less essential but still often highly entertaining albums.

But it's Pink Flag that stuns with its efficiency.  A good proportion of the album's original 21 tracks check in at under two minutes, introducing the riff, some cryptic lyrics by Colin Newman, and then moving on to the next track.  A few of these measured bursts stand out:  The frenetic 30 seconds of "Field Day For The Sundays"; the herky-jerky riff of "Three Girl Rhumba" (later nicked and repurposed by Elastica); the punk energy and catchy closing chorus of "Straight Line"; the infectious simplicity of "Champs."  But the album is also surprisingly varied within the narrow confines of its simple, to the point framework:  "Fragile" and "Mannequin" are miniature pure pop masterpieces (both treated to fun cover versions over the years); "Ex Lion Tamer" is just basic, in your face rock & roll; "Strange" is a haunting, slow dirge loosely based on the Velvets' "Sister Ray" (later improbably turned into a fluffy pop tune by R.E.M.); and closing track "1 2 X U" is a punk anthem worthy of inclusion alongside "Anarchy in the UK" and "White Riot" and "Orgasm Addict" as revolutionary touchstones of the genre.

As distinctive as the songs is the production; while spartan and loud on first blush, it has a crisp immediacy (just listen to the immaculate high hat sound) that manages to sound as raw and tossed-off as the first Ramones album yet carefully recorded to sound like they're playing in your living room.

It's not an album I pass along to many friends, as despite the catchy hooks scattered throughout it is deliberately different and odd and no-frills; but for indie rock fans digging into the roots of punk and post-punk, it is one of a handful of truly indispensable records.

Here's a nifty video for "1 2 X U":
...and "Mannequin" backed by some film footage:
 ...and some animation someone threw together for "Ex Lion Tamer":
Note that deluxe reissues of the first three Wire albums (remastered and chock full of bonus tracks) were released earlier this year; as these things have a tendency to go out of print, I'd go grab them now while you still can.