As simple as it is, Pink Flag is an album that requires intense concentration to enjoy. It makes absolutely no sense — the riffs ought to be dumber than rocks, composed as they are of a chord or two before each song evaporates. (The most complex by far is “Ex-Lion Tamer,” and comprehension comes in a heartbeat.) Most of the tracks are forty to sixty seconds long and the guitars are fuzzed to hell. There is no reason why people shouldn’t burn through the album in seconds, swallowing every little sugar pill with relative ease and in a very bored fashion. It’s not complex or very distinct from pop-punk as we know it today.
Pink Flag in practice is far more interesting. It makes sense only after several listens, each of which must involve a bit of concentration and personal growth. Liking it requires the same kind of commitment as liking the Pixies, who are Wire’s spiritual children: one must work past the simplicity to see how calculated it actually is. The fuzzy/squelchy guitar tone, the sludgy long songs (which are all less than four minutes long anyway), the skeletal production which emphasizes the space between the drums and teensy little Sixties-esque bass and the stereo-separated of the guitars — all must be absorbed in their own time. You can’t force Pink Flag on yourself.
It makes for a wonderful album to listen to in a short sitting, though, once you get used to it. It’s free of musical ambition and pretense, which make it a refreshing listen — no extended instrumental passages, no obliquely unmusical parts. Also, if you refuse to pay attention to the lyrics, the major keys and speedy tempos of most of the songs make for a super-cheery, guileless pick-me-up. I found myself scouring it time after time, as I did with the Low-Maintenance Perennials’ Chicago XX or the Bad Brains’ Banned in D.C. comp, for some of the most pervasive and memorable hooks I’ve heard in a long time. Shuffle it and there’s still a special continuity.
My CD copy came with two bonus tracks drawn from their Dot Dash single, both of which are wonderful but still not quite on the same level as the album tracks. Any way you can get ahold of this out-of-print gem — do it. Pink Flag is more fun than most of the music I’ve heard since I made the commitment to seek out great and weird sounds in the world, and if you haven’t heard it you owe it to yourself to indulge in this compact wonder of punk rock.