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Colin Newman’s solo debut is Wire’s best album it never recorded

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, inspired by Jack White’s new solo effort, we’re picking songs by solo acts that split from our favorite bands.

Wire’s first three albums—Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154—are essential listening for any fan of post-punk, “art rock,” or pop music with a dash of avant-garde experimentation and creeping tension. But equally vital (and often overlooked) are the albums from frontman Colin Newman, particularly his 1980 solo debut, A-Z. Released just a year after 154, much of A-Z was intended to be Wire’s fourth album, before label disagreements and intra-band tensions caused Wire to part ways for the first of several times. And while there are no vocal contributions from bassist Graham Lewis—though he shares a co-writing credit on the very 154-esque “Alone”—and it’s on the whole a murkier, more disjointed affair than what the band had been turning out at its recent peak, it still slots easily and near-indistinguishably alongside those three works. (Considering how extraordinary those albums are, that’s hardly faint praise.)

In fact, “Order For Order” sounds like an amalgam of everything Newman had written to this point, combining the arched-eyebrow punk snarl of Pink Flag, the fractured lyricism of Chairs Missing, and, finally, the big new wave choruses the band had begun to let fly in earnest on 154. Driven primarily by a simple, insistent synth line, the song finds Newman gibbering in his incomprehensible (yet still somehow accusatory) way, making more sound than sense with lines like, “Read it in book / Order in order / A combined attack / I found you out.” It’s oblique, yet galvanizing stuff, especially as it reaches its “always and always” refrain, which sounds at turns like rallying cry and tortured lament.

It would be eight long years after 154 before Wire would release another album, and even then it wasn’t really the same: Absolutely refusing to play its old material (and hiring a Wire cover band to do it for them at live shows), the group would spend the next decade-plus of its sporadic existence venturing further and further into electronica, with varying degrees of success, before eventually returning to a more “classic” Wire sound in the early ’00s. But for those who have spent the years since longing for another Chairs Missing or 154, Newman’s A-Z provides the missing link.