Review: Wire - "Red Barked Tree"
In the early days, Wire were the unchallenged masters of minimal - fifteen of the twenty-one songs on their 1976 debut, Pink Flag, were under two minutes, with six coming in at under one minute. Working within that time frame, the band could rarely fit more than a few chords into a single composition. This was a good thing. Only a third of the songs on the the follow-up, Chairs Missing, were under the two-minute mark, and by the third album there were none. Naturally, a band needs to progress, expand, challenge themselves, but in Wire's case, less was more.
Wire returned from a five-year hiatus in 1985 armed with synthesizers and drum machines and gave us The Ideal Copy, taking cues from New Order along the way. They toured in support of the record, but refused to play any of their older material, instead bringing a Wire cover band along to throw fans that particular bone. A subsequent album featured an eleven-minute song. In 1990, original drummer Robert Gotobed left the band, having grown weary of their use of loops and electronics (and let's not forget eleven-minute songs!). He returned in 1999, as did the band's balls.
Preceded by a few EPs, the astonishing Send displayed four very angry older men seemingly releasing years of pent-up aggression. It was nearly as great, even if very different, as the band in its prime. On the next album, Object 47, guitarist and champion of Wire's noisier excursions, Paul Gilbert, was out of the picture and the melodic side took over, the rough edges sanded down to smooth.
And today there's Red Barked Tree, in which brief squalls of ferocity sit uneasily with the more tuneful elements of Wire. Potential contemporary hits like "Adapt" - a sweeping, majestic, acoustic hummer - patiently share space with bone-rattling, industrial two-chord bashers with fuzzed-out vocals (e.g., "Two Minutes" and "Moreover") - as if they were kids from the previous marriage. In the middle ground we have "A Flat Tent," which delivers a couple minutes of Buzzcocks-flavored punk-pop, and "Clay," where the vocal melody pours sugar on top of a fairly pedestrian, though catchy, progression. Opener "Please Take" could well be a lost Simple Minds track except that singer Colin Newman is politely requesting "please take your knife out of my back" and "fuck off, out of my face," rather than "don't you forget about me." The longer songs near the end get a bit tedious, as Wire still rarely goes beyond two or three chords to get their point across, but all in all there's enough quality and variety in Red Barked Tree to please the old fans and attract some new ones as well.