10:20 is, in the words of Wire, a collection of “strays”, songs that wouldn’t fit on previous albums, ranging from the Chairs Missing era to the present. However, these are not mere outtakes, but fairly recent recordings, four from late 2010 and four from very recently. That certainly contributes to the feeling of wholeness on this album, and it really is an album, despite how it may seem on the face of it.
It’s difficult to create songs that have a high degree of forward motion without them sounding aggressive and more difficult still to make songs that are fast and yet calm, and even melancholic. One of the archetypes of this feeling is found in the motorik sound of tracks like Neu!’s “Hallogallo”. This feeling is most apparent on 10:20‘s “The Art of Persistence”, a re-recording of “Art of Persistence (1st Draft)”, previously available on 2000’s The Third Day EP. The original is a ramshackle affair that sounds like it was recorded in a rehearsal space, as it probably was. The lyrics seem virtually the same, and these are the same song, but on the newer version, it’s as though all the players come together like they’re driving lane to lane on the Autobahn.
The title of this track seems more apt in this respect since it’s as though they’ve retained its persistence but honed the art. Maybe the title, at least in part, is reflective of the motorik nature of the track, which is also found in the original, albeit in a scruffier form, but such is the abstraction of the words that they can be read as reflective of the evolution of the track, creating a sort of Gordian Knot of these texts.
The feeling of melancholy and serenity, which doesn’t quite translate into resignation, is all over this record, and perhaps this tone finds its best analog in dreamy late 1960s psychedelic pop along the lines of “Kites” by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound or the early Pink Floyd. Although the sound is highly refined on these tracks, it doesn’t mean that the band can’t still be rough and ugly when they want to be. The psychotic “Underwater Experiences”, one guitar like a siren, the other like an angle grinder, builds until it’s fit to burst before giving way to “The Art of Persistence”.
“The Art of Persistence” develops into the psychedelic Small Black Reptile, barely recognizable as the same song that appears on 1990’s
Manscape and which now sounds more like a cousin to the psych-pop of the second track on this record, “German Shepherds”. At the close of the album, just when you think you have a handle on it, comes “Over Theirs”, which somehow simultaneously sounds like both “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin and Wire.
So Wire retain the sound they’ve been cultivating for the last few albums and use it to reinvigorate and reinterpret tracks from their various periods. In this, it’s both essential for fans and an excellent primer for new listeners. Who knows if they can maintain this rate of output, but this sounds almost as good as the last one, so let’s not jinx it.