Two types of Wire, intertwined
Following a two-bottles-of-Pabst visit to a 6 a.m. tavern that resulted in the achievement a perfectly relaxed mind, I hooked up my iPhone to the wireless player in my SUV, hit iTunes, switched over to random play, and began my commute back home. While barreling south down I-94, a track came up I’d never heard before: jittery, scissor-sharp, persistent, obviously English, and fucking perfect.
I put it on repeat and listened to it all the way back to my place.
This rest of Red Barked Trees, I found out later, is very good too. Currently, the condensed, taut punk song structures that are Wire’s signature have more muscle then they did back in the band’s Pink Flag and Chairs Missing days, but Wire tends to balance those tracks out with an equal amount of styled melodic pop. The opening track, “Please Take” is a misfire despite its strong melody. This is mainly the fault of poorly written lyrics (“Please take that knife out of my back/And when you do please doesn’t twist” – I mean c’mon… BARFAROONIE!) which distract, painfully so. Things get much better from there. On the more ethereal-sounding side, there’s “Bad Worn Thing,” the band’s registered complaint against the British railway system; “Down To This,” a tale of urban decay set against a dreamy soundscape, and the title track “Red Barked Trees,” which could have come straight off of 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck.
On the noisy side of Red Barked Trees, “A Flat Tent” towers above all else. Fueled by buzzing guitars and an economical Gotobed drumbeat, it’s instantly identifiable and it’s an instant Wire classic. “Moreover” has a simple militaristic cadence, which amplifies that track’s sense of danger. It’s also loud as hell. “Two Minutes” begins in a wave of droning guitar feedback, then slams into gear with a big aggressive riff that doesn’t stop, as Newmann camps up his spoken-word randomness against a second, ominous, unidentified voice reminiscent of the late Allen Ginsberg’s deep, dead pan delivery on The Clash’s “Ghetto Defendant.”
At one point in the life of Wire, striking that balance between pop (favored by singer and guitarist Colin Newmann and drummer Robert Gotobed) and noise (bassist and lyricist Graham Lewis) was a serious point of contention. They seem to have that all worked out.