Wire: Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)
Wire were punk pioneers, writing jaunty, short and electric tracks such as 1X2U, and Ex-Lion Tamer. There were a couple of minor hits, Outdoor Miner and I Am The Fly, but, despite three excellent albums, they were dropped by a thoughtless EMI and split in 1981. Their influence cannot be doubted: REM are big fans, and Elastica couldn’t hide their love for the four-piece, blatantly nicking the riff from Three Girl Rhumba for Connection.
I first became aware of Wire in 1989, a couple of years after reforming, via a single, Eardrum Buzz, who’s itchy guitars and bouncy basslines caused one Radio One DJ in Britain to brand it one of the most annoying songs he’d ever heard. Not that Radio DJ were exactly arbiters of taste, not in 1989 anyway. In the same year came In Vivo, which was incredibly catchy and surprisingly accessible, given their history of being eccentric buggers (they once had a Wire tribute band open for them as they refused to play live their punk standards.) They should’ve been on Factory.
Since then I’ve heard very little from Wire, which doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared: this is the 11th Wire studio album since 1977. It’s just that the world rarely listens to older bands as they industry clamours for the Next Big Thing. The philosophy is flawed as anyone who has heard an Edwyn Collins, Fall or Joe Strummer album from the past decade or more can testify.
Red Barked Tree is a glorious collection of ripe, easy to digest forthright songs. It is a timely release as the world has changed, post-punk is in, the Gang of Four are the nation’s heroes and as many young bands as there are slugs in your garden are now clogging up the radio airwaves by playing like it’s 1981.
And Wire in 2011 now sound like a post-punk band revived by the New Wave of Post-punk movement, using that familiar guitar twang and that incessant bass to create something that both sounds like Wire of old and of a band diversifying its interests.
This is seriously good; Wire are in full force, sounding, like, well Wire have always done, in 1977, 1987 and 2011. There’s some sort of random wordplay going on in Two Minutes, Colin Newman shouting statements like ‘Religious vomit’, ‘A dirty cartoon duck covers the village in shit, possibly signalling the end of western civilisation, and ‘Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness’.
That might be the best track of the album but Adapt is the most potent: a slow moving beast it may be but that is an ideal pace to delve deep into the state of the modern world – observations about extreme climate change and disaster, the failure of financial markets and hollow politics. There’s a strain of melancholy and it’s difficult to ascertain much hope in the song, just a denouncement of how things are, but it remains aesthetically beautiful.
And in those two tracks you have the essence of Red Barked Tree: quiet or loud; random or thoughtful; brutal or delicate.