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Drilling Deeper

Wire
Read & Burn (pinkflag)

Since Wire’s inception in 1976, members Colin Newman, Bruce Gilbert, Graham Lewis and Robert “Gotobed” Grey have spent far more time on hiatus, or pursuing solo projects, than they have working together as an active musical concern. The quartet’s initial four-year-long creative collaborative burst produced the smart punk of Pink Flag (1977), the fractured pop of Chairs Missing (1978), and the art assault of 154 (1979), three of the most important and impressive albums of their era. Wire’s second phase was best defined by the “monophonic monorhythmic repetition” (their words) of the group’s signature ’80s song, “Drill,” which debuted on 1986’s stunning Snakedrill EP, and which appeared 10 times on the deliciously obsessive, era-ending 1991 album aptly titled The Drill.

Newman, Gilbert, Lewis and Grey are back in the racks with their first new studio recordings together in over a decade. Like Snakedrill before it, at the dawn of Phase Two, Read & Burn is a short (six songs, 17 minutes) and savage reintroduction to Wire of almost unbearable intensity, its brevity driven by the palpable fury and energy that went into its creation. Which isn’t to say that Read & Burn is some sort of toss-off sampler or trial disc: It’s a fully realized, stand-alone recording, but it does leave the listener fully and eagerly primed for what this new phase of Wire’s evolution may bring.

So what can one expect in the future, given the evidence on this disc? A harder, faster, louder Wire, for starters, since Read & Burn rockets along at tempos and timbres far outstripping anything on any of their prior records, the high octane Pink Flag included. And a deeply rhythmic Wire, too, with Grey’s metronomic ticky-tick drums and Lewis’ steroid rage bass bits anchoring Wire’s signature “dugga dugga dugga” cadences, creating a crystal-pure beat combo attack that stands, awesome, at the middle of the maelstrom of bees created by Gilbert’s and Newman’s buzzing, grinding guitars.

Toss some intense, distorted lead vocals by Newman (five tracks) and Lewis (on “The Agfers of Kodack,” the angriest sounding song of them all) into the mix, and you’ve got a record that grabs you and shakes you in all the ways that great rock & roll records are supposed to. Even if they don’t ever release another record, Wire (Phase Three) will have been a success, based strictly on the 17-minute stab of genius that is Read & Burn.

—J. Eric Smith

Bryan Ferry
Frantic (Virgin)

Bryan Ferry, the paradigm of rock & roll freeze-frame, would never be so disheveled as to be frantic. But he can be urgent and persuasive, qualities that dominate this album, his best in a good 10 years. Paced by a propulsive, infectious cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” the public image of Roxy Music has delivered a cohesive, hard-rocking disc. Unlike As Time Goes By, Ferry’s appropriately languorous nod to Cole Porter, Frantic has more dimension, name-checking blues, cinema and country icons, and it even incorporates the medieval. “Goddess of Love” tips a snap-brim hat to Marilyn Monroe, a Cajun-flavored “Goodnight, Irene” salutes Leadbelly, Don Nix’s “Goin’ Down” is pretty damn bluesy, and the courtly “Ja Nun Hons Pris” is by Richard the Lionhearted (the king, not the rock group). There’s always been a rueful undercurrent to Ferry’s music, and you could by no means call him optimistic here. The haunting “Fool for Love,” wide-screen “San Simeon” and oddly bouncy “Nobody Hurts Me” reveal the self-pity and narcissism that Ferry somehow manages to make appealing. The other reasons this album connects are Rhett Davies’ production, Chris Spedding’s guitar, Paul Thompson’s drums. Even Brian Eno guests on “I Thought.” Ultimately, of course, it’s the style, which Frantic has to burn.

—Carlo Wolff

Mark Eitzel
Music For Courage & Confidence (New West)

When artists known for their own writing bring forth an album of cover material it can be either an indulgence (made all the more peculiar by the diminished earnings that result from setting aside their own publishing monies) or an illumination. Mark Eitzel’s new set is thankfully the latter.

He strolls through 40 years of songs with a casual ease that belies a deeply emotional core in both his choices and delivery. Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” opens up the set, and it is sung without a hint of irony. In fact that’s one of the strengths of this album: Eitzel’s ability to honestly imbue such familiar fare as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Gently on My Mind” with such conviction that we appreciate both his performance as well as the resilience of the songwriting. The spare and supple arrangements buoy the underlying melancholy, adding a sense of hope and vitality.

—David Greenberger

Joe Lovano
Viva Caruso (Blue Note)

Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano pays homage to great tenor singer and paisan Enrico Caruso in this engaging reprise of tunes Caruso either made famous or knew from his Naples childhood. Like Lovano’s mid-’90s albums Celebrating Sinatra and Rush Hour, Viva Caruso is melodic, romantic and wide-screen. Like them, it aims to mainstream material too long confined to a particular market. The tunes span the operatic “Vesti La Giubba ‘I Pagliacci’,” the ribald “Tarantella Sincera,” and “Il Carnivale di Pulcinella,” a three-part suite encompassing a punchy, far-out “Wild Tarantella.” Lovano is, as usual, warmhearted and engaging. His tone continues to deepen, along with his instinct for popular song. Byron Olson’s orchestrations at times evoke Eddie Sauter and Gil Evans, and that’s a compliment. Besides their wind and string configurations, the songs feature Lovano’s wife, Judi Silvano, on voice, which gives them an otherworldly feel while simultaneously aligning them with their vocal source. Other tracks are sparser and more intimate, and the sequencing pops with surprise. “Viva Caruso” is accessible and loving, a tribute that puts its stamp on the past by looking forward.

—C.W.


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