“This year marks the 40th anniversary of Wire’s debut, the post-punk landmark Pink Flag. Its combination of sharp minimalism and unorthodox approaches—especially in lyrics which drove at meaning while dodging it—formed a blueprint for a band who through many stops, rebirths, and realignments have remained hard to pin down. Even their latter-day, more straightforward records contain levels that take work to penetrate.
Musically, *Silver/Lead *is as straightforward as Wire gets. Every song is streamlined, with solid (mostly mid-tempo) beats, clear melodies, and smooth, subdued vocals (mostly from Colin Newman). There are few surprises in individual songs—some even sound like variations on each other—but each one holds something memorable. On that level, *Silver/Lead *is a well-made rock record by a band who knows how to make rock records well.
It’s in Graham Lewis’ lyrics where *Silver/Lead *becomes more of a puzzle. His lines are always tricky to decipher, yet they’re never so vague as to be meaningless. You get the sense that plots are furthered and points are made, but the messages and scenarios are too slippery to be locked into one interpretation. That effect is enhanced by Newman’s sinewy voice. He often sounds like he’s spinning a riddle rather than speaking directly to you.
There is one line that gives a clue as to what Silver/Lead is about: “The path that is progress is under repair.” Throughout the album’s 10 tracks, our narrator seems intent on moving forward, but is unsure how, or whether it’s even possible. References to roads and motion make the album feel like a travelogue; there are multiple songs featuring boats and rivers. But *Silver/Lead *also poses questions it can’t quite answer. As “Short Elevated Period,” one of the album’s few up-tempo tracks, puts it: “My reasons for living were under review…Standing in the road, where would I go to?”
This tension between wanting to move and wondering how to do it enlivens songs that might otherwise feel inert. The pep talk of “Diamonds in Cups” (“The course of creation is often quite strange/Keep your mind open, be willing to change”) gains energy from uncertainty. A similar pressure emerges in “This Time,” which admits that “some folks claim they know all the answers” yet still insists “This time it’s going to be better.” One track, “An Alibi,” is nothing but questions, though its pessimism feels buoyed by the music’s confident swing.
There are a few spots on *Silver/Lead *where Wire succumbs to its own subtlety, as words empty and the tempos deflate toward flatness. But the group catches itself quickly, producing the album’s best track, “Sleep on the Wing.” Another exercise in self-encouragement, the song projects conviction as an answer regardless of what the question is. In other hands, a chorus like “Upward and inward, outward and forward/Sleep on the wing, fly through the night” could sound like a Hallmark card. But for Wire, it’s the well-earned release on an album that’s much tenser than it appears.” – Pitchfork