Since their era-defining debut Pink Flag was first released some 33 years ago, the members of Wire haven’t really stopped. Like any 30-odd year old band, there have been fads and phases, some hiccups and moments they’d probably like to forget along the way, but there are some gems to be found in their collective back catalogue too.
Its members have dipped in and out of the band since its formation in ’76, using it to prop up solo work and side projects, but Wire has been a full time entity in its current guise for some 11 years now. Unlike their early, hungry days, the latter day Wire production line is slow. The albums generally considered their masterpieces were released, once a year, between ’77 and ’79, and between ’87 and ’91 they released six albums. But Red Barked Tree, their 13th album, is only the third Wire release this millennium and their second since founding member Bruce Gilbert left the band in 2004, so it’s fair to say it’s been somewhat eagerly anticipated by fans.
Despite working together for so long, no one could accuse Wire of getting boring or being caught up in the past. Not for them the path of fellow post punks The Fall, who’ve released album after album of the same sound; so many in fact that their name has practically become a genre. The last three decades have been one long experiment for Wire, and has seen them dip their toes in every pond in the world of intelligent indie-rock – electro, art-pop, shoegaze – and, despite being very much a guitar album, Red Barked Tree feels like an amalgamation of their curiosity; the end product.
Opener Please Take throws together slabs of New Order and Roxy Music and mixes them with a healthy dollop of sneering attitude; “Please take your knife out of my back/Fuck off out of my face,” demands singer Colin Newman in a resolutely monotone voice, spiky drums and looping guitar painting an uneasy dreamscape that stretches throughout the album’s 40 minutes.
Two Minutes could have been lifted straight from Pink Flag; a short, sharp shock of angsty, growling confrontation “Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness,” they spit, among equally sneering observations about cartoon ducks and the end of Western civilisation. They might not play the nostalgia card but they’ve plenty with which to invigorate their fans of yore.
Bad Worn Thing couples warm indie guitars with off beat vocals and lumpy, soaring soundscapes in what’s certain to be a single. Now Was is a crunchy, snotty groove that puts The Strokes in their place. And A Flat Tent is an exciting, rolling cut of angular art-pop.
Red Barked Tree is a proud and unapologetic album; as it shifts between sounds there’s conviction in every noise and word. It’s the sound of a band still having a lot of fun. And there’s not an ounce of nostalgia.