Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)
Wire will always be most admired for their first three albums, a trio of erratic but accessible post-punk benchmarks recorded in the late ’70s. Though they’re unlikely to release anything as durable again, there are still plenty of great moments scattered throughout their unpredictable, on again-off again career, and their new album Red Barked Tree stands out as one of the better ones. The band seemed to emerge fully formed on their 1977 debut Pink Flag, wielding such a distinct sound that the songs here are unmistakably the product of the same brains that birthed that album, even if the mind and hands of guitarist Bruce Gilbert are missing.
The absence of Gilbert, who has been minimally involved in the group’s new millennium incarnations, may have removed a bit of edge from their sound, but it hasn’t hampered the texture of their music. And the attitude is still very much present, especially in the lyrics: “Please take your knife out of my back /And when you do don’t twist it,” sings Colin Newman over and over on opening track “Please Take,” a bouncy tune that puts a bitter flavor inside a confectionery pop song. In fact, a lighter, poppy tone is prevalent throughout the album—“Bad Worn Thing” even has a New Order feel to it—with a few noisy, sneering detours like “Two Minutes” and “Moreover.” The most unexpected but majestic moment arrives with the closing title track. Over layers of acoustic strumming, atmospheric electric guitars, and spooky organ, Newman sings of finding “the healing red-barked trees.” It’s an uncharacteristically emotional track with an unusually pastoral, almost mystical, sentiment that might have seemed out of place coming from the band a while back, but here suggests the group is still finding out what they’re made of.