Holly and I visited the UK in 2001, and though I wasn’t in music nerd mode at the time I still picked up a book (“Now in the 3rd Edition”!) by Colin Larkin called All-Time Top 1000 Albums. I’m fascinated by these kind of books. I mean, coming up with a list of your top five or ten albums isn’t too hard for most people, but how do you decide that Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind ranks #758, one spot ahead of Tattoo You (seriously – that’s where the book has them)? Anyway, I was particularly surprised to see bands I’d never even heard of in the top twenty. This was a combination of my complete lack of knowledge about any music that wasn’t classic rock or metal along with the fact that the rest of the wold often has completely different musical tastes than we have here in the old U S of A.
So when thinking about today’s post on Pink Flag by the English group Wire I figured I should see what Mr. Larkin had to say about it. Well, it turns out Pink Flag is the 535th best album of all time, sandwiched between Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Black and Blue by the Stones, though since this edition of the book came out in 2000 I’m sure it’s moved either up or down the list a bit, somehow getting more or less important. Then I read this: “Tracks halt, sometimes abruptly, when the point has been made, creating an ever-changing mélange of sound and texture.” Um, what the hell does that even mean? I get the part about halting abruptly, but you lost me somewhere around mélange. Obviously I have a lot to learn about this music writing thing.
Anyway… my version of Pink Flag was a new re-release that I bought over at Port of Sound Record Shoppe in Costa Mesa a few weeks back. All the books I’ve read that cover the origins of the punk era mention Wire and Pink Flag (though I don’t think any used the word mélange), recognizing it as an important punk milestone, so it seemed like something I should check out. And you know, the books were right.
Pink Flag was released in 1977, the same year the Sex Pistols put out Never Mind the Bollocks (#29!), and while both bands are technically punk, they really couldn’t be much more different to my ear. Pink Flag certainly fits the punk mold, packing 21 songs onto a 36 minute LP, which is impressive and should ensure that you don’t get bored. Six songs don’t even make it to the one minute mark. But there’s really no danger of getting bored with Pink Flag. It’s punk, to be sure, but it’s almost like the guys from Wire moved right past punk, maybe poked around for a second in post-punk, ignored new wave completely, and put out something that sounds like it could have been at home on college alt radio circa 1990. It sounds way ahead of its time.
This album is awesome. I caught myself playing the “this song reminds me of…” game, and came up with Icelandic punks Bodies (“Reuters” and “Lowdown”), Talking Heads (“Three Girl Rhumba”), and even L7 (“Feeling Called Love”), but Pink Flag doesn’t sound like anything else… before or since. My two favorite songs are “Strange” and “12 X U”, while “Fragile” was the track that was by far the most advanced sounding. Consider – Rollins and Minor Threat, among others, did covers pulled from this album. That’s high punk praise right there. If I needed to describe this album using two words they would be aggressive and insistent.
I wrote a the initial part of this post while listening to this album the first time, and I realized pretty quickly that I needed to sit down and just listen to it all the way through a second time before finishing it up (aided by a glass of rye). I’ve been waiting for an album to get me excited like this again, and Pink Flag gets it done. And of course it’s on iTunes, so you have no excuse to not listen to at least a few of the tracks I’ve mentioned. You can mail me a thank you card.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, album #1,000 in Larkin’s book was Todd by Todd Rundgren. He’s also nice enough to name album #1,001, the one that just missed the cut: Rio by Duran Duran. All I can say is wow.