Time for a cliché: have you ever had an old pair of jeans? You may have totally forgotten about them, but when you slip them on, there is a familiar sense of creature comfort – and maybe old memories come rushing back. When I heard that Wire was releasing their twelfth studio album, “Red Barked Tree” (11 January 2011), it was that proverbial cliché of the old pair of jeans. Though I had not listened to Wire in months, I must have listened to “In Vivo” about forty times in a row! Thirty-three years into their career, surviving the original punk and post-punk movements, outliving the new wave and alternative rock eras, and now releasing in the second decade of the twenty-first century in the midst of an 80s / post-punk revival, what is on offer in “Red Barked Tree” is a retrospective of the different styles / genres the band has mastered along the way, with subtle twists in the nuisances, all the time continuing to produce some of the savviest and most contemplative lyrics.
The album starts subtly with “Please Take”: “Please take your knife out of my back; and when you do, please don’t twist it!” But this account of “another sugared lie” and “latest alibi” has some of the best lyrical play: “I felt the stab in my blind side, a poisoned blade to paralyse, a cosh of cash, a net of drink to anodise, no longer think…” And the witticisms continue in the second track, “Now Was”: “You’re the wizard of was, becalmed in because the newab of no, with no place to go. A grandmaster crashed, whose future has past. The wazir of fear, now: Seer of the year.” The first track has a definite air of post-punk almost bordering on the etherealness of dream pop, while the second has the sense of urgency that punk was built on. This urgency is visited again in “Two Minutes” – not so much sung as relying on sprechgesang, the constant wall of sound, especially at the beginning, creates a beautifully powerful undertow.
“Bad Worn Thing” is my favorite track on the album; unlike so many of their contemporaries that continue to produce music, Wire has not shied away from making bold statements about the world they live in. It is the punk in them: “Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers, frisking pimps and dawn car dealers; the Fat Controller’s transport inches; when stealing lives, he never flinches.” Later in the song, “Follow me! No explanations…” And that single quote seemingly sums up most politicians’ platforms. Wrapped neatly within a thriving, post-punk bassline and beautiful layers of guitars, this is the kind of anthemic song that needs to be heard on blaring speakers. But I could carry on for hours on each of these tracks … whether it is the languishing “Adapt” or the closing, socially critical, acoustic epic “Red Barked Tree,” this album does not have a single second of filler or fluff.
Gems … gems … and more gems, this album is oozing with lyrical genius and musical acuity – though only forty minutes long, this album is packed with power. Wire proves, yet again, why they have sustained the test of time. And though many bands continue to make music after their shelf lives have expired, “Red Barked Tree” reminds us that Wire still has many tricks up their sleeves and many words left to write. Check this album out.
1. Please Take
2. Now Was
4. Two Minutes
6. Bad Worn Thing
8. A Flat Tent
10. Down to This
11. Red Barked Tree
Keep up with Wire at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Head over to iTunes (USA link) to preview and purchase this album.