Wire rounded out their exceptional initial trilogy of albums with this, a foray into moody, longer-form compositions. After the brief, explosive burst of their debut and the shadowy, off-kilter follow-up, 154 simultaneously expanded their palette and hewed to the patterns they’d established. It’s split down the middle between traditional 80s-style pop tunes (already ahead of its time) and the same old weird Wire tracks. At this point, the music the band was examining couldn’t necessarily be deconstructed in the same way as punk (Pink Flag) and post-punk (Chairs Missing). This set of tunes was languorous and amorphous, fleshing out the spastic detours and acrobatics of their early work, while remaining no less odd and unique. Its songs are noticeably longer, on average. 154 finds Wire occasionally breaking through the veil of irony and grit they helped solidify to create something actually heartfelt and pretty. Some tunes almost come close to embracing post-punk normalcy, which seems a bit disappointing at first but is ultimately rewarding. They perpetuate a diversity in mood, tempo and texture, with the increasing presence of synthesizers and gradually slowing tempos. Echo and sustain create an ethereal, haunting effect.
This was where goth music had its roots, as well as some dance music and post-rock, which would be honed much later. Numerous 80s guitar bands would use the chilly sounds, sluggish pace and peculiar structures to produce heart-on-sleeve songwriting. One famous example is the Cure, an archetypally doomy and sad group who actually had the wit and character to be quite interesting and quirky when they wanted, a trait I find more enjoyable than their hyper-repetitive gothic tunes.
After this record and an ill-fated performance-art tour, Wire felt they had come full circle, and/or arrived at a dead end. And so, having fulfilled their purpose, they (temporarily) broke up. (Another incarnation of the band would arise later). A perfect, tidy, logical end to a perfect, tidy, logical band like no other.
Key track: “A Mutual Friend”
See also: Pornography – the Cure (1982), Disintegration – the Cure (1989)