Release Date: Jan 11, 2011
Record label: Pink Flag
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On their awesome 2003 comeback set, Send, these UK art punks didn't just recapture the ferocity of their influential 1977 debut, Pink Flag — they exceeded it, like pitbulls gone rabid. Maybe with less to prove, the shapeshifters make some of their prettiest music ever here; apocalyptic vibe notwithstanding, the strummy guitar wash of "Adapt" wouldn't sound too out of place on a Coldplay CD. Which is not to say they don't still spit venom.
This is going to look gimmicky, so apologies in advance. But I reckon it’s at least a bit worthwhile… An interesting way of approaching Red Barked Tree, *Wire’s twelfth studio album, is in the dappled, late evening light of Yo La Tengo’s twelfth studio album, Popular Songs. Not because of any particular similarities between the two bands’ respective musical projects, obviously.
Since the late 1970s, English rock band Wire have demonstrated a cheeky straightforwardness in dismantling rock 'n' roll conventions. Red Barked Tree, the band's 12th studio album, feels like a career summation. Recorded, like their last album, without guitarist Bruce Gilbert, it contains many other ingredients that will sound familiar to long-time fans, namely an emphasis on erudite, sometimes snotty lyrics and big, heavy riffs.
Despite influencing everything from US hardcore to electroclash and Britpop magpie [b]Damon Albarn[/b] since forming in 1976, [a]Wire[/a] have bizarrely remained a cult concern. This ought to change with the release of their 12th record, 11 clever tracks of unrelenting and witty pop. Wire have always had a knack for the accessible and melodic, but it comes with a twist.
You don’t see many 12 year olds wearing Wire t-shirts. The bedrooms of pre-teens, barometers of mass culture, have long paid homage to many of their fellow first-wavers. Colin Newman and his crew have kept off the racks of Hot Topic, while hardliners like Ian McKaye have found their bands’ logos bewilderingly juxtaposed with Nightmare Before Christmas sweatshirts and black grommeted arm warmers.
Wire always seem to be ahead of their time, no matter what time they choose to exist in. Their legendary three-album evolutionary run from 1977 to 1979 predicted punk's gradual mutation into synth-pop; their second incarnation (circa 1985-1990), as a textural electro-rock outfit, anticipated the late-80s vogue for industrialized funk and dream-pop. And even their most recent reunion in 2000 was an uncannily prophetic move-- after seeing their currency rise throughout the Britpopped 90s, Wire resurfaced just as indie rock was about to be revitalized by a post-punk craze that eventually also lured first-wave peers like Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd out of retirement.
It will be said time and time again that few bands following the ’77 boom had as much influence on where punk was going to go as Wire had, their Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154 blueprint as essential to modern rock music as any album by The Clash, (as far as bands that matter are concerned). In spite of their rep, the (now) trio of Colin Newman, Robert Grey (Gotobed) and Graham Lewis still manage to create interesting and distinguishable albums while other younger post-punk mutations, many of whom follow Wire’s example, breed their own art rock records and saturate the Internet, vying for iPod rotation and "Likes. " Red Barked Tree follows 2008’s very good Object 47, a more direct and punchy gang of songs that ride out the album’s length in as conventional a way as Wire is capable.
Perhaps we’ve been taking them for granted all this time. Maybe Wire’s first few albums were just so good that they made it impossible for us to appreciate the often terrific material they’ve released sporadically during the subsequent decades. They could have just slunk away in the dead of night, leaving us with 1977-79, and their place in history would have been safe and sound.
London’s essential punk/post-punk outfit, Wire, have been around forever, seemingly. Their first album, Pink Flag, came out 35 years ago, while Chairs Missing, and 154 came out the following two years. Each is considered a standard-bearer of the scene at the time, progressing without losing that bleeding edge. While there haven’t exactly been leaps and bounds in genre or crazy changes in styles, they always manage to keep things fresh, decade after decade.
The Wire of today is not the same as the Wire of old, when their razor-sharp minimalism was tied to a jaggedly tuneful sensibility. This kind of statement may seem so obvious as to not even merit saying. Bands age, their integrity erodes, inevitably lapsing into diminished versions of the sounds that made them noteworthy in the first place. Yet in the case of Wire, that change hasn’t involved the same kind of direct falloff, less a slack softening than a realization of the futility of pursuing the same musical routes, resulting in a consistent effort at transformation.
In an interview with Crawdaddy magazine after the band regrouped in 2000, Wire frontman and guitarist Colin Newman said that the band's original intention was to destroy rock & roll by removing the roll from the equation. Drummer Robert Grey (aka Robert Gotobed), played a large part in the removal of "the roll" from the band's music. His straightforward timekeeping eschewed fills and cymbal splashes in favor of a simple, driving rhythm that gave much of the band's music its linear, avant-garde feel.
They play alternative guitar music better than any young British band you can name. Garry Mulholland 2011 The odd thing about Wire in 2011 is their complete absence of oddness. When UK post-punk’s most influential band first split in 1981, dropped by EMI after their first three era-defining albums failed to shift units, they splintered off into weirdo art projects like Dome, mixing obscure performance art and intellectual pranks with abstract noise heavily influenced by early mentor Brian Eno.
The late-’70s postpunk legends expand on their famously minimal sound in Red Barked Tree, piling on plenty of psych-pop texture on ”Adapt” and utilizing what might be an acoustic guitar (!) on the dreamy title track. That said, frontman Colin Newman hasn?t exactly mellowed since re-forming Wire in 2000. ”F— off out of my face,” he warns over a sleek funk groove on opener ”Please Take.” ”You take up too much space.” B Download these:Moody Down to This on last.fm .
Now on a third reincarnation, UK art-punk pioneers Wire channel the vitality of their 1970s/1980s canon into something far more hungry and adventurous than simply a resewn Pink Flag. With three of four original members (guitarist Bruce Gilbert bowed out in 2004), Red Barked Tree evolves like a bell curve – starting cool, building to a boil, and gradually coming back down. The curtain opens on "Please Take," a sleek, midtempo cruiser couched in the polite British vocal restraint of bassist Graham Lewis, at least until he croons, "Fuck off out of my face" to touch off the chorus.