Wire – ‘Life In The Manscape’ US CD single (Enigma/Mute, 7 75553-2 / MUTE 107, 1990)

September 25th, 2018

‘Life In The Manscape’ turned out to be the one and only single release from Wire’s fan-testing ‘Manscape’ album, a period where the band’s insistence on devotion to process (in this case MIDI/computer-based recording and editing) dragged them well out of shape from the nominal ‘beat combo’ of the preceding Mute releases. (And even those releases had already had their fair share of playing second fiddle to the technology…) The album was viewed by Wire as their ‘1990’ album, a deliberate change in direction and methodology. I personally have a lot of time for it, but the band themselves have long since distanced themselves from it and many’s the fan who have either joined them in that view or would hope for some 21st century remix of it to sort it out.

Wire - Life in the Manscape US CD front insert design

^ Wire – Life in the Manscape US CD front insert design

‘Life In The Manscape’ itself was the kick-off track if you had ventured down the CD or cassette path of the ‘Manscape’ album. It was nowhere to be found on the vinyl LP. It is a lively number, more’s the pity it was neglected from all formats. The first track on this CD single purports to be the ‘Album Version’, but in fact it is not. Instead, it is the same remix as labelled as the ‘Radio Mix’ on the 12” promo single (Enigma/Mute EPRO-311) of this release. It is not radically different from the LP mix, the differences are subtle – there is some variation to the vocal that can be heard from about the 3’20” mark onwards – the album mix is almost over by this point – then a repeat to fade for the remainder of the sing’s duration – a good 20 secs + plus longer then.

Wire - Life in the Manscape US CD insert rear design

^ Wire – Life in the Manscape US CD insert rear design

There are two further mix variations to be found on this CD. First up is the ‘7-inch Version’ – you get the idea from the title of the intent, I suppose, though there never was a 7” single release. It is actually longer than either the album or Radio Mix, funnily enough. It sticks to the blueprint of the album mix too by and large but each chorus adds new vocal and lyric variation, so in the end it is quite noticeably different, not to mention a near half minute longer than the album mix – oh, and there is no fade-out, it comes to a dead halt.

Wire - Life in the Manscape US CD single label design

^ Wire – Life in the Manscape US CD single label design

Things go well awry on the ‘12-inch Version’, where gimmicky remix trickery grabs hold firmly by the lapels and doesn’t let go until suitably pointless havoc has been wreaked on the song’s fabric. It hasn’t dated well, this mix, starting off with some almost hesitant sequencer synth work before the familiar musical pattern of the  songs barges in on proceedings. A variety of contemporary samples (referencing South Africa in particular) are grafted atop, with no Wire vocals appearing until just before the four minute mark – and even from then on they are obscured by effects and well buried in the mix. It would be hard to recommend this mix as being a satisfying listen, I feel.

Wire - Life in the Manscape US CD rear case design

^ Wire – Life in the Manscape US CD rear case design

The CD is completed with two other tracks that never appeared anywhere else other than the Japanese 2xCD edition of the album initially, later appearing on the ‘Coatings’ compilation CD on the inspirational WMO label, while it was still a going concern.

‘Gravity Workshop’ (actually, it should be titled correctly as ‘Gravity Worship’) works better of the two for me. Graham Lewis is the sole vocalist on this piece and it’s a fair point to make that he sounds like some MIDI-enabled preacher plugged into the mains, as he spouts atop a fairly angular musical workout beneath. Panned dead centre you can hear the kind of arpeggiated notes that were quite the hallmark of the A Bell Is A Cup…/IBTABA work, rendered more sweetly here amidst the remainder of the noise. You could imagine that there may have been decisions to be reached in choosing between ‘What Do You See?’ and this track for the album, both have similar vocal intensity on display.

‘Who Has Nine’ I personally favour less. Sonically, it starts off quite Mute of the era – you could imagine it on a Depeche Mode release of the time. Again, it is Graham Lewis on lead vocal, but the song lacks the same manic performance of the previous track and never really travels far enough, outstaying it’s welcome a good  bit.

Wire - Life in the Manscape US CD insert inner spread design

^ Wire – Life in the Manscape US CD insert inner spread design

Recommended then for the ‘7 inch Version’ in particular and ‘Gravity Worship’. But what do you think?

Propaganda – ‘The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse’ cassette single (ZTT, CTIS101, 1984)

March 27th, 2018

An incarnation of Propaganda recently reactivated and performed ‘A Secret Wish’ in full at a couple of sold out shows at ‘The Garage’ in London, under the monicker of xPropaganda. I never thought I would get a chance to hear this album performed live, so it was quite the event, one that simply had to be attended if at all possible. Many highlights, inevitably, ‘Dr Mabuse’ chief amongst them. What better way to celebrate the re-emergence than to take a look back at the ‘singlette’ edition (as ZTT were wont to call their cassettes) of their debut single…

Propaganda - The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse - cassette single inlay and case - front

^ Propaganda – The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse – cassette single inlay and case – front

The inlay card for the cassette noted “Three of Dr Mabuse’s nine lives appear on this cassette. Learn about his black crimes in Dr Mabuse. Hear about his strange lover – the woman with the orchid in Femme Fatale. Then marvel at his unlikely return in The Ninth Life” and went on to list the tracks as follows;

  1. Dr. Mabuse
  2. Femme Fatale (The Woman With The Orchid)
  3. The Ninth Life

However, that is not what appeared on the cassette. No, that would be far too straightforward for a ZTT release, wouldn’t it?!

Propaganda - The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse - cassette single inlay and shell - rear

^ Propaganda – The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse – cassette single inlay and shell – rear

In fact, the correct tracklisting is as follows;

  1. Das Testament Des Mabuse
  2. Dr. Mabuse (A Paranoid Fantasy)

The truly splendid, 10 minute long work that is’ Das Testament Des Mabuse’ made good use of the extended cassette duration, with the more familiar 7″ inch mix ‘Dr. Mabuse (A Paranoid Fantasy)’ alongside. No place then for the woman with the orchid, sadly. The tracklist repeats the same programme both sides of the singlette.

Propaganda - The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse - cassette single shell and case - front

^ Propaganda – The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse – cassette single shell and case – front

Why the tracklisting was incorrect, I don’t know.

The outside of the inlay also states “An ‘incident’ cassette that contains sections from number two of zang tumb tuum’s noble action series. As an ‘incident’, and despite its catalogue number, this cassette becomes number 12 in ZTT’s wondering incidental series.”, in familiar ZTT style. The cassette shell is a fairly standard moulded design, nowhere near as elegant as the later ‘Complete Machinery’ singlette would come housed in.

Propaganda - The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse - cassette single inlay and shell

^ Propaganda – The Nine Lives of Dr Mabuse – cassette single inlay and shell

Colin Newman, ‘Not To’ UK LP (4AD CAD201, 1982)

November 29th, 2017

Early 1982 saw Colin Newman’s third solo album ‘Not To’ revisit a good number of songs that Wire had first performed live but never recorded as studio takes, in equal turns sating a curiosity but also further underlining Wire’s extinct status. ‘Not To’ dusted off and updated ‘Lorries’, ‘We Meet Under Tables’, ‘Safe’, ‘5/10’ and ‘Remove for Improvement’, all of which had seen live Wire outings previously (and would be documented in rough, live recordings too – initially in 1981 on ‘Document and Eyewitness’, then many years later the remainder on ‘Turns and Strokes’). (There is also ‘You, Me And Happy’, though any Wire recording of this seems to be unheard of.)

Now, it was not only Colin Newman re-purposing this source material – Gilbert & Lewis and their ‘Dome’ project also made use of ‘And Then…’ on ‘Dome 1’ and ‘Ritual View’ on ‘Dome 2’, while Colin Newman himself had already revisited ‘Inventory’ for his initial solo album, 1980’s ‘A – Z’. ‘Alone’ from that same LP shares writing credits of Newman/Lewis, so a Wire connection there too perhaps.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP front cover design

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP front cover design

So, ‘Not To’ inevitably had a great deal of comparisons to Wire from the off, given its source material. In particular, the more overtly ‘pop’ side was always bandied about as if this were the sole preserve of Colin Newman – despite his previous solo album, ‘Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish’, straying into the kind of outer fringes sonic areas that erstwhile colleagues Gilbert and Lewis had been mapping as their own. Having said that, there’s no doubt that this ‘poppier’ side was in the sights with this album’s sound. The album was produced by Colin Newman himself and this gives it a gentler, somewhat more clean and precise sound in comparison to how things had been sounding with Mike Thorne, who had helmed all three Wire LPs to that point as well as Colin Newman’s first solo outing.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP rear cover

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP rear cover

Wire’s late-period material of 1979/80 acquired something of a mythic status as the stuff from which would have been spun the band’s notional post-‘154’ fourth album, had the sheer impediment of being Wire and self-imploding tendencies not finally gone nova with 1980’s final live outing at the Electric Ballroom. Some of these tracks had partly been preserved already in rough form on 1981’s ‘Document and Eyewitness’ live album. Some years on, the ‘Turns and Strokes’ waifs and strays tidy-up compilation of the late ’90s would document even more of them.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP label side one

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP label side one

For many years then, it was a good parlour game to entertain various permutations of what might have been on this notional fourth album, since it had never come to pass. But in customary contrary fashion, in 2013 Wire released ‘Change Becomes Us’, which saw the band revisit this period and re-record anew based on the same source material as a starting point.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP label side two

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP label side two

In 2016, the album was re-issued. The vinyl LP preserved the original track listing while the 2 x CD version came complete with a second disc of 21 previously unreleased ‘B Sides, Demos & Supporting Material, Home Studio Demos’ plus the ‘We Means We Starts’ single A side for good measure.