Strangely odd. Weirdly uncommon. Abnormally alien. There are a million ways to say it: this album is bizarre. Not bizarre in a ‘Weird Al’ kind of way, though. Nor is it strange in the way Captain Beefheart is. No, this kind of strange that embodies Wire’s Chairs Missing is something like a hybrid between claustrophobia and schizophrenia.
The front cover gives you a good idea of this eccentric unease. The room is clean, the sky is blue, and the centerpiece flowers are blooming in a majestic shade of purple. But, as the title says, there are no chairs present at the table. Furthermore, there’s no window behind those drapes – is that just pure sky with no horizon? And what’s with the floor? Are those tiles or concrete or are we just walking around on clouds? And, wait a second, that’s not even a table, it’s just a white trapezoid!
It makes you wonder what kind of place this is exactly. I immediately think of a hospital or an asylum, but whatever it is, it’s just a little bit off.
This is where it begins. “Practice Makes Perfect” is the lead track on Chairs Missing, and does a great job setting the listener up for a harrowing ride. According to Allmusic, Wire’s previous album Pink Flag plays like The Ramones Go to Art School, but this track sets out to prove that comparison false. The tempo is creeping and the instruments jab their way into your cerebral cavities. Warped electronic sounds start to writhe alongside the squawky vocals. Throughout the track’s 4-minute lifespan, crescendos build and release, none to a definite climax, which only leaves the listener in an awkward limbo.
With a name like “I Am The Fly”, you already know you’re in for a treat. This song is happy to oblige. In first-person narrative, the track chronicles the adventures of a misanthropic fly who helps himself to some of your supplies and describes his ability to “spread more disease than fleas”. A ‘yuck’ moment if there ever was one, the band also does a good job of using instrumentation to highlight the grotesque nature of this particular fly with a metallic ring mod effect. The melodies snap in and out at unpredictable and asymmetrical rates, which results in a crooked catchiness.
On the whole, there are layers and layers of eccentricity present in this album, from minute-long workouts to long form mood-morphers, Wire doesn’t shy away from the strangeness (and darkness) apparent in the punk genre. The artwork stands testament to this idea as well – that there was always something odd about even the most seemingly straightforward of scenes.
Album: Chairs Missing
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)