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The Haul 2010: He Said's Take Care

He Said – Take Care LP – Mute, 1989 – $3 (Broadway Avenue Reckless Records, 7/15)

He Said's Take Care

Wire’s third LP, 154, is an engrossing document of artistic divergence. Vocalist/guitarist Colin Newman wrote the music for the album’s approachable post-punk songs, with like “The 15th,” “On Returning,” and “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W” (co-written with Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert) ranking among the group’s best starting points. Bassist/vocalist Graham Lewis helmed “The Other Window” and “A Touching Display,” pushing the record toward performance art dramatics. The split between camps on 154 itself is admittedly less transparent than its aftermath. First, Wire made a decided step toward explicit performance art with the performance at the Electric Ballroom captured on Document and Eyewitness. Next, the two camps—Newman and Gotobed, Lewis and Gilbert—underscored their respective tendencies with their post-Wire output. Newman explored nervy post-punk on A-Z and Not To (along with the Eno-esque instrumentals of Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish) with Gotobed remaining as his drummer, while Lewis and Gilbert explored considerably more experimental terrain with Dome, P’O, and Duet Emmo. These extracurricular activities continued after Wire reformed in 1985, albeit with less frequency and stylistic division.

I appreciate both sides of this coin on 154, but past that, my preference for Newman’s post-punk over Lewis and Gilbert’s outré art is apparent in my record collection. He Said’s Take Care, a collaboration between Lewis and John Fryer (noted producer and member of This Mortal Coil), is the first release I’ve picked up from the latter faction, having avoided those Dome LPs in fear of overdosing on gothic voiceovers and clanking machine noise. The release date on Take Care is critical for a few reasons: first, it came in the midst of a string of Wire releases, joining the semi-live record It's Beginning to and Back Again in 1989; second, it echoes my comment about less stylistic divison from the mothership; third, it sounds very, very much like an album from 1989. Far from the experimental fringes of Dome, Take Care is more akin to the electronic-addled late-’80s Wire—for both better and worse.

Opening track “Watch.Take.Care” typifies the album’s specific faults and flairs: it’s too long and the drum programming is noticeably dated, but Lewis’s repetitious vocal patterns, bass line, and textural touches are compelling. The verses on “A.B.C. Dicks Love” come shockingly close to the semi-rapping of Pet Shop Boys’ “Westend Girls,” a vocal style that doesn’t suit Lewis very well, although the melodic chorus redeems the song. The moody “Could You?” overreaches at times with its ambiguous murder mystery storyline, but Lewis imbues the “Did you do it for love? / Did you do it for free?” refrain with open emotion rather than his usual detachment. “Tongue Ties” is the album’s best dose of ’80s pop hooks, including digital hand claps. The less said about the electro-R&B “Not a Soul,” the better. The instrumental “Halfway House” is commendable, if dated synth-based industrial, parried by the spooky, orchestral “Get Out of That Rain.” The aggressive vocals of “Hole in the Sky” are equally irritable, but at least that one’s tucked away at the end of the album.

Provided that you listen to He Said’s Take Care in its proper context—as a thoroughly ’80s companion to Wire’s contemporaneous work—it’s actually a pleasant surprise. If you cut “Not a Soul” and “Hole in the Sky” and trim a minute or two of repetition from a few of the other tracks, Take Care becomes a fine EP or mini-LP, demonstrating Graham Lewis’s overlooked strengths as a pop songwriter with occasional hints at his experimental edge. Who knows, it might even encourage me to explore the more abrasive work Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert released in the first half of that decade.