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Wire, "Red Barked Tree"

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Wire's last album, Object 47, admittedly never fully clicked with me.  It was definitely a good disc, but it didn’t ever feel truly like Wire to these ears.  The heavy use of digitally treated guitar and synthesizers to create "pop" music came across feeling more like a Colin Newman solo album, and also rather close to his Githead project.  Red Barked Tree, on the other hand, is more organic and also channels a bit of that brilliant genre-breaking schizophrenia that made Chairs Missing and 154 such classics.

Pink Flag

Red Barked Tree - Wire

It's not nearly the drastic shift in sound that occurred between 2003's Send and 2008's Object 47, however.   Red Barked Tree actually retains a lot of the melodic pop elements of the latter, but in the more traditional guitar/bass/drum configuration, rather than the more electronic-tinged approach, and the results feel more like Wire to me. It doesn't hurt that there are a lot of elements from the band’s history that arise:  the guitar tone on opener "Please Take" instantly reminded me of "The 15th," and the pounding drum/guitar riff opening to "Smash" channels "I Don't Understand," and so forth.  These never feel forced or lazy, but just reference points that those familiar with Wire's catalogue would appreciate.

The former also pairs a bouncing melody and a classically smooth Graham Lewis vocal with lyrics that are the polar opposite ("Fuck off out of my face/You take up too much space/Move!  You're blocking my view/I've seen far too much of you") that seem to reference "Mannequin" as much as "Torch It." "A Flat Tent" is another that feels like an amalgamation of Wire's discography:  a punky propulsion akin to something off of Pink Flag, but a catchy melody and odd breaks and changes in the structure is something no other band could do this well.  "Smash" is cut from a similar cloth, with a memorable melody that could be pulled from '80s Wire, even with the noisy, ugly breakdowns that occur.  Plus, it doesn't hurt that we can clearly hear the bassline to "I Am The Fly" pop up in "Clay."

Other songs are happy to wear their aggression proudly:  "Moreover" has steady, methodological drumming and clockwork-like guitar riffs are definitely thorny, and combined with its stream of consciousness lyrics, the result almost makes it seem like "Raft Ants" on Ritalin.  "Two Minutes," which was released a few months ago as a teaser for the full album was definitely an odd choice:  being written in 2001, it has that pseudo-Motorhead drive that characterized those early Read & Burn EPs.  The clean guitar sound definitely separates it from the early 00s material, and the random lyrics are a Wire signature.  Newman's snarling, sarcastic delivery is perfectly balanced with Lewis' narrator like cadence on his lines.

Perhaps the oddest thing to jump out at me was the overt use of acoustic guitar on a few tracks, notably "Down To This" and "Red Barked Trees." I actually have to go so far as to say "Adapt" is jangly, something I'd never thought I’d say about Wire.  However, it fits perfectly, especially on "Red Barked Trees," which has a folk infused sound that ends the album on an uplifting note as opposed to the apocalyptic bleakness of "Down To This," which is quite possibly the most dour track the band has ever done.  These last two tracks are the ones that feel perhaps the least "Wire" to me, but in all honesty, I'm sure fans hearing "Drill" for the first time upon its release would have said the same thing, and I've always considered that track quintessentially Wire.

The first 2000 orders direct from Pink Flag include a bonus EP, Strays, that is an attempt to capture four tracks the band always felt were never adequately presented in studio recordings.  In addition, the recordings feature both previous and current touring members Margaret McGinnis and Matt Simms on guitar and backing vocals, making it a unique item in the band's discography.  "Boiling Boy," which I always felt was a high point of A Bell Is A Cup is stripped of its FM synthesis and MIDI heritage to be reborn as a purely organic guitar/bass/drums track, much like the band has been playing it live.  I can't say that one version is "better" than another, because they are so different, but the build in intensity in the final third or so of the song is a brilliant touch.

“German Shepherds,” on the other hand, loses some of the murky sadness that seemed to permeate the Peel Session take (from Coatings) that made it, quite possibly, my favorite single track from 1980s Wire.  It is closer to the original b-side version from "Silk Skin Paws" than it is to the IBTABA recording and is still quite good, but just not the same for me.  "He Knows" is the only one here that, to my knowledge, has appeared on no other release, and resembles the Object 47 era, though stripped down to its barest essentials.  Thankfully, "Underwater Experiences" more resembles the Document and Eyewitness takes than the demo from Behind the Curtain, but just feels odd having Newman and Lewis shouting the vocals in unison, rather than the haphazard yelling of the older versions.  It lacks the hysterical mania of the live recordings, but is in no way a bad song.

It might not be quite the genre hopping masterpiece that 154 was to me, but Red Barked Tree feels like the band’s most diverse offering since the mid 1980s.   While I really have no way as of yet to rank it among their other albums personally, given the relatively brief time I’ve had with it, I feel, at least now, that it will come out well, as there just seems to be a greater number of songs that stuck with me after first hearing them, and thus motivating me to give it another spin after "Red Barked Trees" comes to a close.

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Last Updated on Monday, 24 January 2011 04:32  


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