Although not a drastic shift from 2001's album (as well as Read and Burn 01 and 02), this newer installment is somewhat more subdued and melodic than the post-digital thrash hardcore that "Comet" and "Spent" managed so well. Indeed, the electronic sheen has crumbled away and there is an overarching sense of melody that was obscured by the crunch and feedback before. This is immediately apparent during the opening ambient textures of "23 Years Too Late" that mesh with Graham Lewis' inflected baritone reading from his travel diary over minimal high hat and bass strums. Even the chorus passages, with Colin Newman's snarl set on "calm" and Robert (Gotobed) Grey's fast pace metronomic drumming still feels more subdued than pretty much anything from Send.
The lumbering "Our Time" channels "Lowdown" in its lurch, "the time is short or maybe long" even references that classic track's opening line. However, the synth like lead guitar and Newman's sneering, matter of fact delivery are a bit more "Being Watched" than classic Wire. "No Warning Given" has a bit more sing-songy vocals that are not drastically removed from the more pop oriented Wire Mark II of the mid-1980s. Even the absurdist lyrics are seemingly a descendent of that time ("I'm telling you fella/I wouldn't be in your shoes" could very well be an antecedent of "German Shepherds"). The punchy rhythm and chiming guitar lines help make it one of those perfect Wire songs: difficult and opaque on one level, but catchy and charming on an entirely different one.
The all-to-short disc ends with the plaintive guitar notes and abstract "Desert Diving" with detached readings from Newman that are obviously influenced by his Githead project. While the beginning references the icy subtlety of "Heartbeat," the remainder is more straight ahead pop oriented. The chorus' steady beat and distorted, yet muted guitar lines give it that earworm quality that ensures multiple listening. I should also note that, even though he's often an overlooked member of Wire due to his lack of solo work, Robert's drumming on here is phenomenal: the rhythms stiff, the sound piercing, and captures that perfect essence of sound that made "Fragile" such a perfect track some 30 years ago.
Though the rudimentary credits listing for the disc don't address the issue, this material feels less like studio constructions and more like full on collaborations. While Send was brilliant, it had a very inorganic digital reflection to it, while the sonics here are softer, more natural feeling. Perhaps it was still recorded in four different studios and assembled by Colin Newman in Swim Studios, but the sound and feel seems to indicate otherwise. Regardless, this latest installment of the Read & Burn series is another piece of fascinating music from one of the most consistently brilliant bands in the universe. The fact it is heralding a new studio work (with no tracks from this disc included) surely leads me to think one of the best albums of 2008 will be here soon, and when the band announces the title we will all know what to put on that short list for next year.