Like the CD reissue of Document and Eyewitness, Turns and Strokes is comprised largely of material gathered from live performances Wire gave in 1979 and 1980 before embarking on a five-year hiatus. Although they didn't appear on Document and Eyewitness, six of the 12 tracks on Turns and Strokes date from the Notre Dame Hall and Electric Ballroom gigs, which provided the bulk of that earlier CD. Also featured are three songs recorded by an audience member at one of Wire's Jeanette Cochrane Theatre concerts in 1979. The sound quality on these numbers is inferior even to the Electric Ballroom material, itself taped on an eight-track machine that delivered only a distorted two-track recording. Low-fidelity reproduction notwithstanding, the live tracks on Turns and Strokes are of considerable interest to fans insofar as they hint at the direction Wire might have taken, had the band continued recording together at that point. (Instead, Wire did not release another full album until 1987's The Ideal Copy.) In that regard, the noisy, mid-paced menace of cuts like "Over My Head" harks back to Chairs Missing, while the more down-tempo tracks like "The Spare One" and "Part of Our History" suggest a continued exploration of textures and tensions in the spirit of 154. Turns and Strokes is particularly attractive to Wire completists in that it offers a glimpse of several works-in-progress. At the time of its original performance, the live material featured on Turns and Strokes was unreleased -- with the exception of "12XU," present here in a tongue-in-cheek version -- and would have been unfamiliar to audiences. However, certain of these numbers will now be recognizable to aficionados, not as Wire songs per se but as tracks ultimately recorded by Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and Bruce Gilbert for their various side projects of the early '80s. "Inventory," for instance, appeared on Newman's first solo effort A-Z in 1980, while "Remove for Improvement" and completely revised versions of "Safe" and "Lorries" found their way on to his 1982 album Not To. In contrast with its slower, cleaner rendering on Not To, the speedy, no-nonsense performance of "Safe" on Turns and Strokes is closer to Wire's sound on Pink Flag and more symptomatic of the band's punk roots. "Lorries," on the other hand, has a mournful tenor quite antithetical to its eventual incarnation as an up-tempo pop song that could have been a huge hit for Newman, but of course never was. While Lewis and Gilbert would convert the frenetic "Ritual View" into an austere piece of pulsing minimalism on Dome 2, a couple of the studio recordings included on Turns and Strokes map out the future sound of Dome most clearly. Originally released on the B-side of the 12" single "Crazy About Love" (1983), the tape-loop bricolage of "Catapult 30" prefigures some of Dome's sonic experimentation. The same can be said of Lewis' "A Panamanian Craze?," a 16-minute excursion into droning ambience with a squalling, dissonant sax, drum machine, and sporadic muttering. Much like Document and Eyewitness, Turns and Strokes is essential listening only for serious devotees of Wire. Those who are not committed to an archaeology of all things Wire but who are simply interested in discovering the band's most fertile period are better off with the first three studio albums, or the excellent compilation On Returning (1977-1979).
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AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate