When your band’s current line-up has survived longer than your two original incarnations combined, I think it’s safe to say you’re no longer part of a “reunion”. That’s where Wire find themselves in 2011, nearly a decade since reforming after two sub-five year runs in the late 70s and 80s. What’s remarkable about Wire Mk III is that they’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls typical of veteran bands by continuing to experiment and push their sound that much further with each new release. At this point, it would be easy for Wire to either rest on their artistic laurels or simply pander to their audience with straight run-throughs of their classic three album gauntlet from 1977 – 1979. Excepting perhaps Mission of Burma, there isn’t another band from the original post-punk era with as much stock in maintained integrity. The result of this pure, ideologically-sound approach has been some of the freshest and most consistently fascinating music of the band’s career. Their newest album, Red Barked Tree, not only continues this winning streak, but also proves to be perhaps their best full-length in nearly two decades.
The band’s effort to present each release as its own unique document in the Wire trajectory has afforded their catalogue easy contrasts. Just from their recent run alone we’ve been offered the knife-sharp, vitriolic restatements of purpose that are the first two Read & Burn EPs (still the best of their new material, it must be said), the sprawling studio experiments of the third entry in that series, and the cheeky new-wave synth dalliances of 2008s Object 47. So while it’s fairly easy to file each record via sonic signposts, it’s remains nearly impossible to mistake Wire for any other band. For its part, then, Red Barked Tree displays yet another new wrinkle in the continuing evolution of the Wire sound, but is marked by a consistency that occasionally hampered Object 47. For all the tense, angular movement usually associated with the Wire sound, however, this new material is surprisingly organic and comfortable sounding. The album’s eleven tracks are unusually warm, expansive and inviting. The album cover may be stark and inhumane, but I’d venture to say that Red Barked Tree is one of the band’s most lush and magnanimous records to date.
A lot of this is due to the increased use of acoustic guitar, which colors a handful of these tracks and really fleshes out some of the band’s colder moments. This slightly more succulent backdrop is just that, however: a backdrop to display a typical litany of frustrations from co-songwriters Colin Newman and Graham Lewis. Opener “Please Take” encapsulates the album’s dichotomous approach quite blatantly: over a steadily skipping rhythm and a sleek interplay of guitar and synth, Newman unleashes a diatribe against backstabbing brethren, unaffectedly intoning a chorus of “Fuck off out of my face / You take up too much space / Move, you're blocking my view / I've seen far too much of you”. It’s more resigned than bitter, however, as I imagine these guys have seen enough over the years to suffer anything as petty as industry politics or inter-band arguments. Wire continue to operate completely on their own terms, and as they move agilely between these more expansive moments (see the acoustic and piano abetted “Adapt”, as well as the awesome “Bad Worn Thing” and the closing title track) and the tighter, more aggressive tracks that they made their name on (see the appropriately titled “Two Minutes”), it becomes clear that Wire is no longer simply that great, highly influential group of vets who are still getting together to jam every now and then, but an artistic unit on par with any art-rock band currently in the game. It’s pretty early in the year, but even from this far out, Red Barked Tree seems poised to remain one of 2011’s strongest front-to-back rock albums. [InRO]