On Returning (1977-1979) is a generous 31-song overview of Wire's punk heyday, covering the albums Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154, plus several songs that appeared only on non-album singles. Subsequent CD reissues by Restless have added nearly all of those rarities to the original albums as bonus tracks (the sole exception is the fine "Dot Dash"), so the compilation isn't quite as useful for devoted fans as it once was. Furthermore, even if On Returning is a handy way to chart Wire's rapid musical development, their progression is better heard on the individual albums, all of which create their own distinct musical moods. However, On Returning does have its advantages: first and foremost, it culls nearly all of the group's best songs from the time period ("Mannequin" is missing, and the selection from 154 is somewhat botched -- omitting the brilliant "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W," among others, is inexcusable). And listeners with a low tolerance for artiness may find this a more concise and acceptable way to familiarize themselves with this important band; make no mistake, Wire's experiments with sonic texture and song structure are willfully challenging, although ultimately well worth the effort. So, the bottom line is that On Returning (1977-1979) is a pretty good overview and likely all the Wire a casual fan will need; however, if you're a neophyte and Wire sounds highly intriguing to you, chances are you'll end up with all three 1977-1979 albums anyway, rendering this compilation redundant. In the latter scenario, the classic Pink Flag is the better starting point.
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