Wednesday, May 12, 2010

410. Pink Flag- Personally I blame the Ramones.

Album: Pink Flag.
Artist: Wire
Year: 1977
Genre: Punk.

Tracks.
1. Reuters
2. Field Day for the Sundays
3. Three Girl Rhumba
4. Ex Lion Tamer
5. Lowdown
6. Start to Move
7. Brazil
8. It's So Obvious
9. Surgeon's Girl
10. Pink Flag
11. The Commercial
12. Straight Line
13. 106 Beats That
14. Mr. Suit
15. Strange
16. Fragile
17. Mannequin
18. Different to Me" (Annette Green)
19. Champs
20. Feeling Called Love
21. 1 2 X U

I blame the Ramones, I think it's all their fault. It's not that they've got a lot to answer for musically it's more to do with their influence on this list as a whole. Those leather-jacket wearing punksters must have really addictive personalities because when the writers at Rolling Stone magazine put this list together they overvalued the Ramones' opinions somewhat. If you include their long-term manager there were four members of the Ramones who contributed to this countdown. They must be the Pringles of the Rock-interview world- you can't stop at just one: "They're very moorish those Ramones, I came to ask one of them what albums they liked but I had to interview another three before I felt satisfied." Now don't get me wrong- I think it's only fair that a Ramone gets to share his views on the greatest albums of all time. They were an influential band who deserve a voice. But two voices? I don't think so. Three voices? Definitely not. Four voices? Now you're just being silly. I think this list would have been a lot more balanced and more credible if the editors had cast their nets a bit wider and interviewed a wider cross section of the music community. Maybe asking for input from Ani Di Franco or an Indigo Girl to address the male bias a bit (most of the female contributors were very pop mainstream) or try quizzing a member of the Jam Band community. Surely the Ramones could sacrifice one of their votes to give a member of Phish a bit of input? They have sold millions of concert tickets over their 20 year career after all.

Anyway the point is that the list seems to be full of punk albums that everyone who is really into Punk regards as "seminal" but everyone who isn't sees as "really obscure." At the time of writing only 42 people felt the need to express their opinion of this album on Amazon. 42 reviews for a release that's 23 years old isn't much and suggests a degree of apathy out of tune with an album that supposedly only has 409 more superior releases in the entire history of popular music. But I bet the Ramones like it which explains why it ranks at 410. And it means I have to review another "seminal punk album" at a time when I've discovered I don't like punk, seminal or otherwise.

Apparently this release is groundbreaking but like Gang of Four, the Minutemen and other albums on this list it seems to follow some fairly standard rules...

1. Use a minimum amount of chords. To quote Lou Reed: "One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
2. Avoid solos. Avoid any musical embellishments of any kind. You've got your three chords- don't be greedy.
3. Don't try to hide the fact that you can't sing in tune- celebrate it.
4. Abandon standard song structures. If you can't write a chorus then just pretend you don't care.

5. Get in, play your three chords and get out before anyone realizes you haven't written an actual song.
6. Celebrate your disdain for Television and those who watch it. It seems to me that every seminal punk album needs to have a healthy stab at TV and it's viewers. In the interests of research I checked what TV program achieved the highest ratings in 1977 and found out it was Happy Days... so they probably had a valid point.
7. Don't bother varying the rhythm.
8. If you want some variety then get a bit shouty. Don't bother changing the tempo just up the volume.

The final rule involves giving your lyrics an edge of obscurity that makes them impenetrable but deep sounding. The Wire are often credited with having thoughtful lyrics an example of which follows:

"My mind is unwilling and your flesh is so weak
Do my movements betray the secrets I think?
I always stand by walls and try to humour fools

Am I moving in a straight line?

Oh, it's unlust and the one-dimensional boy"


That's it. They're the entire lyrics for a song called Straight Line. It's a fine line between thoughtful and baffling and I think this occupies an entire middle ground all of it's own. I'm baffled but in a thoughtful way.


The only song on Pink Flag that I recognized was a track called Strange, which I knew I'd heard somewhere but couldn't tell where. Once I looked it up I realized it was the one track on REM's document that I couldn't stand. It doesn't hold up much better in it's original form.

While I don't like this music I do admire the sentiment behind it. Wire were never going to bow down to anyone, they don't release albums for the masses and you know that every note of every song is what they intended it to be. I really admire that as a concept and admire them as artists for doing their own thing. I understand what an impact this must have had back in 1977 but I can't help but wonder who listens to it now. 42 amazon reviews is a tiny amount and of those most reference the fact that the reviewer has been a fan of them for years. The most recent positive review on the site comes from 2006. I don't think they're picking up many new fans.

Highlight: Some Handclaps come in towards the end of the album and you can't help but greet them as a marvelous blast of exotica.
Lowlight: The fact that it makes you think handclaps are exotic.

Influenced by: The Sex Pistols, The Clash.
Influenced: Husker Du and REM and I'm assuming The Ramones.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this record is great. buy it. NOW!!!! "ok, i'll do it." -- mindless consumer in search of good music"

-That's the whole review. Thoughtful or baffling? You decide.

So do you salute the Pink Flag or would you rather if flew at half mast for the Wire's career? Let me know below.

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