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Albums Of The Week: Wire | Not About To Die

The artsy post-punks beat the bootleggers by giving new life to a set of vintage demos.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “The original Not About To Die was an illegal bootleg, released at some point in the early ’80s by the dubiously named Amnesia Records. The album was made up of demos recorded by Wire for their second and third albums Chairs Missing and 154. These demos had been recorded for EMI, with cassette copies circulated amongst record company employees. They were never intended for release.

A typically shoddy cash-in, the songs on Not About To Die were taken from a second or possibly third-generation cassette, with the album housed in a grainy green and red photocopied sleeve. Compared with the high standards of production and design Wire have always been known for, it was something of an insult to band and fans alike.

Now, in a classic act of Wire perversity, the group have decided to redress the balance and reclaim one of the shadier moments of its history, by giving Not About To Die its first official release. All the tracks have been properly remastered, with the relevant recording details in place. As for the sleeve artwork, whilst it strongly references the original, it is decidedly more artful in its execution.

Having received proper care and attention, Not About To Die emerges as a fascinating snapshot of Wire in transition. Herein are embryonic versions of classic songs such as French Film (Blurred), Used To and Being Sucked In Again, that the group would develop considerably for their epochal 1978 album Chairs Missing. Later demos such as Once Is Enough, On Returning and Two People In A Room would surface in radically altered form on 1979’s 154.

Photo by Malka Spigel.

Some songs such as The Other Window, are virtually unrecognisable from their later iterations. But the biggest prizes here may well be the numerous tracks that were destined to be omitted from Wire’s studio albums. Highlights include Motive, which, whilst obviously still in an embryonic state, has an undeniable power. Robert Grey’s drumming is crisp and minimal, and Graham Lewis’s bass runs are particularly ear-catching. Despite its distinctly un-Wire title, Love Ain’t Polite is also something of a gem. Bruce Gilbert’s guitar is razor sharp and Colin Newman’s vocal is especially strong, with his delivery providing an irresistible energy and charm. The track which gives the album its title Not About To Die, officially known as Stepping Off Too Quick and shared online for the first time today, is alive with confident energy, and possesses what Newman half-jokingly calls “The best intro to any song ever.” The intro is so good in fact, that it takes up a third of the song’s entire time.

Newman says “The LP version was initially a Record Store Day release and we do like to support independent record shops. We also appreciate that RSD does not cover all retail; not everyone wants to consume the music on vinyl and that indeed not everyone can get to a record shop. So this release is for everyone else!”

These properly mastered tracks have never been available before, and they provide an opportunity to hear Wire at a point in their development when they were bursting with fresh ideas and a will to communicate them. This is post-punk at its very finest.”

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