‘California Republic’, ‘Wire Train’, ‘Untitled’, or whatever you want to call it, should do for Wire Train’s UK profile what ‘Here Come The Snakes’ did for Green On Red’s. Like ‘Snakes’, much of it is lashed tight to a stiff R&B backbone, and again, like ‘Snakes’, it effectively jettisons a somewhat over-precious past in favour of a more boisterous future.
Failing to give it a title (the words “California Republic” are just visible on the cover) is also a neat way of making it appear to be a debut LP, which, of sorts, it is. ‘Wire Train’ effectively disposes of their history—the U2 and Waterboys comparisons and the entangled CBS wrangles that have kept them quiet for nigh on three years.
This new Wire Train are rootsier, blacker, shaking off the uptight white boy technicality of their last LP, ‘Ten Women’ and, for the first time, not being afraid to actually mine a groove as they do to such earth-moving effect on songs like Moonlight Dream and Precious Time. It’s also folkier, stained with a similar forthright earthy passion first hinted at with Compassion from ‘Ten Women’.
Dakota is the centrepiece, though — a cavernous swirling haze of dread, desperation and unholy promise, driven along by some kind of weird voodoo-style percussion that evokes the Stones’ Gimme Shelter with latent intensity.
It’s not as easily identifiable as previous Wire Train albums, doesn’t labour under the same constraints as the quasi-concept album ‘Ten Women’ necessarily did. Indeed, ‘Wire Train’ has a Dylan-esque ‘Basement Tapes’ ambience about it, a sometimes drunken sometimes sleazy, varied mix of Hammond organ, West Coast harmonies and bottleneck guitar.
Kevin Hunter’s once inextricable lyrics and penchant for word play are for the most part, replaced by an uncluttered, stream of consciousness. Personal and apocolyptic images and phrases swim surreally through the decayed landscape of Nineties America on All Night Living where “Cecil B tears down the walls of temple and Judas rides side saddle”; while the slow simmering brutal disgust of Tin Jesus – a frenzied attack on Mid-West preachers – is lit with incendiary bursts of controlled guitar fire.
Wire Train have learnt that atmosphere isn’t a button on the mixing desk, it’s an attitude, and this LP has it in serious supply. A bit of a classic.