The essential philosophical quandary: Pick any issue at all and you'll find that it's just as easy to argue one position as it is to pursue its opposite. Of course, there are also those who have a talent for occupying both stances at once: On Wire's new EP, for instance, the band manages to sound totally different and essentially the same as it always has.
The mere existence of a new Wire release in 2002, 25 years after the group's debut, is something of a shock. This is the same band who famously quit making music in 1980, released their "comeback" album The Ideal Copy in 1987, and temporarily disbanded again in 1991. But now that Wire's advances have been thoroughly incorporated by the current postpunk revival, it's the perfect time for them to re-form again and show all those young whippersnappers how they did it in the old days.
Except that's exactly what Wire doesn't do on Read & Burn :1 (Cargo). While their essential guitar/bass/drum elements remain intact, the band now twist their trademark angularity into markedly different shapes, favoring a wash of buzzsaw guitars and a tightly wound rock pulse. (Imagine a kind of minimalist shoegazer music--if that's not a contradiction in terms.) Wire achieve a remarkably listenable monotony on "I Don't Understand," which lays down a cleanly distorted guitar groove that's almost as funky as INXS's "Need You Tonight." (Yes, that's a compliment.) With "Comet," they make their contribution, and debt, to punk rock more obvious, infusing Class of '77 percussion with that quintessentially English sense of detachment. Yet when they fall back upon pristine studio production as a way of suggesting their musical evolution, they begin to sound derivative: Witness "In the Art of Stopping," whose crisp drums and Hammond-led drone can't mask the fact that the song borrows a lot from newer bands that, well, kind of sound like Wire.
At least the band knows the value of brevity: Read & Burn's six songs total less than 17 minutes, and even the less successful ones end just in time. For that alone, Wire have won their welcome to come back to the stage. Now if only the same thing could be said about that last Sex Pistols reunion.