Monday, January 17, 2011

Wire - 'Red Barked Tree'

Outside of open hostilities, there’s something to be said for taking a hiatus instead of outright breaking up forever. Post-punk founders Wire have come in and out of existence over the course of 30 years, dropping a few classics and then taking breaks when needed. Their latest, Red Barked Tree, mixes shades of shoegaze, post-punk and industrial, and it’s surprisingly good coming from a band that’s been around so long. The sounds Wire is playing with now are contemporary – swirling, murky, fuzzy – but the band outpaces most of the upstarts out there.

Red Barked Tree is a lot of things. Sure, it sounds like Wire. “Please Take” nods to the mellower Object 47, while the beats that propel “Now Was” and “Two Minutes” should be familiar to fans of the band’s classic trilogy of ’70s albums. But it manages to be both one of the group’s quietest and loudest works in equal measures. Opener “Please Take” and “Clay” certainly have an ambient charm, but just a few tracks away is “Two Minutes,” a punishing 120 seconds of dissonance and bile.

And then there’s “Bad Worn Thing,” an infectious dance floor filler that builds and builds. It’s one of the best Wire songs of the last decade, if not the group’s entire run, and proves that for every experimental avenue Wire goes down, they still have a firm grasp of pop dynamics.

That said, there’s a caveat one needs to make. Wire is good at mood and noise. But their lyrics have always been surreal, which can at times also mean that their lyrics are terrible. “Bad Worn Thing” really is a great song, but it also opens with the line “Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers.” That’s just awkward.

But when Red Barked Tree is on, with guitars blaring, drums pounding and mood in full effect, Wire is revealed as a vital force. Punk isn’t minimalism. It’s catharsis and fire. Wire displayed those qualities in great amounts on Pink Flag, and Red Barked Tree proves that the band still has those qualities, albeit in a new form. Yeah, they still bash and crash, but they can bend the noise to something greater, something that comes with experience.

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