The very nature of Wire’s existence is one of surprise. The albums comprising their groundbreaking first trio — Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 — sound very little alike, each one presenting an entirely new side of the UK post-punk outfit, while each subsequent return has presented something entirely new. These sonic surprises have come to mark the identity of the band, be they the glossy art pop of The Ideal Copy or the raw machinepunk of 2003’s Send. That the state of the band always seems to be in flux, from hiatuses to lineup changes, only serves to reinforce the band’s state of perpetual change.
For the first time in nearly a decade, however, there oddly appears to be some stability to the group after the departure of founding member Bruce Gilbert. Object 47 was the band’s first album without all original members, and rather than allowing that setback to get in the way, Wire has forged ahead with yet another new release, Red Barked Tree. Draped in effects and highly accessible like the band’s late-80s Mute period, while at times reminiscent of the arty punk leanings of their earlier albums, Red Barked Tree is the sound of everything Wire has ever done, yet more loose and smirking. Though the band’s most `punk’ recordings tend to display the group’s most highbrow side, this feels less labored, less deliberate. Mostly, it just sounds fun.
Brimming with more energy and sneer than Object 47, Red Barked Tree is far from Wire’s most abrasive set, yet it’s far from their most polished. Instant standout and leadoff track “Please Take” is a clean and catchy pop number that could have easily been pulled from 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck. But just around the corner from its dreamy verses lies a bilious chorus: “fuck off outta my face!” “Now Was” is much more punk sounding, jagged yet still a bit relaxed, propulsive yet still a bit hazy. However, “Adapt” is practically a shoegazer ballad, easily one of the band’s most serene compositions.
The band plows through a fuzzy raveup on the accurately titled “Two Minutes,” revisits the rhythmic pulse of “I Am the Fly” on “Clay,” rambles about jam sandwiches on “Bad Worn Thing,” and drifts into shoegazer bliss on the closing title track. The songs often feel a little too relaxed, but even if the band is snickering throughout, it’s hard to find fault with songs this enjoyable on a sonic level. This isn’t Wire’s best album, not by a long shot. But it is definitely a good Wire album, and offers frequent reminders of the creativity and visceral power that have made them legends.
Wire – A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck
Ride – Nowhere
Television – Adventure
MP3: “Two Minutes”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.