In our new feature we look back through the archives and suggest artists of like mind and sound, and thus bring their fans to new music that may appeal. Even if you are a fan of legendary post-punk band Wire you may have missed out on Red Barked Tree, that we happen to think might be a career best. And if you like Wire, you’ll probably enjoy The Maitlands and Total Victory, who both offer the best lyricists around these days.
Wire – Red Barked Tree (2010)
“Opera in the age of fragmentation”
With every passing year Wire’s Red Barked Tree becomes ever more relevant. A bile flecked broadside depicting a nation ruled by betrayal, treachery and inanity. A nation divided and subjugated. A nation elated by false hopes and distracted by glittery shinies. And yet within discontent, Wire plant the seeds of hope and look for the victory of common sense. Fighting with sharp words and sharper guitars, Red Barked Tree sees Wire fighting hard.
Wire do need better publicity though. Sure, their initial trio of groundbreaking post punk albums (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154) are hailed, correctly, as iconic, but since their reunion their career has been so low-key that Sherlock Holmes could overlook it.
So, in 2010, when Wire released the brilliant Red Barked Tree, it received positive plaudits, but not the kind of attention that should befit a game-changing band releasing an album that could possibly be their best.
The line “Opera in the age of fragmentation” sums up Red Barked Tree. Overcrowding, decay, ecological disaster, bureaucracy, stupidity and alienation are just some of the issues here. It’s not a downer though, as the songs are performed with such brio, verve and fervour. There may be discontent, but’s an anger mixed with style, wordplay and immaculate hooks. The album is chock-a-block with tantalising songs from start to finish.
‘Please Take’ heralds the album with what could be the catchiest, funniest Wire song in their repertoire. As soon as it starts you know Wire have hit pay dirt with a casual gait and jaunty guitars. I won’t spoil the chorus for those who haven’t heard it, but it’s one of the best you’ll ever hear. Meanwhile…
I won’t hear another word
Another sugared lie
I won’t be a part of your
Latest alibi, so,
Please take your knife
Out of my back
And when you do
Please don’t twist it…
‘Now Was’ continues the pace with a high energy shimmer bemoaning look-back-bores (see The Fall’s The Infotainment Scan for an album of such anti nostalgia vitriol) with the bad pun but great sentiment of “You’re the wizard of was”.
‘Adapt’ starts with a riff surprisingly close to ‘Wonderwall’ (go check if you don’t believe me) but is in fact a slowly spun, bubbling, resigned ballad, dispensing advice for the apocalypse such as “Adapt Chekhov to family crest”.
‘Two Minutes’ is a rampage of anger and pummeling mechanical guitars (check out Nnon by The Woken Trees for a band influenced by this kind of punishing post punk) and everything you need to know is summed up with the lyrics: “A dirty cartoon duck covers the village in shit / possibly signalling the end of western civilisation”.
‘Clay’ has a lolloping start but builds into a rising bubbling swell. ‘Bad Worn Thing’ features more brilliant wordplay “Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers” and bemoans the “overcrowded nature of things”. ‘Moreover’ has a machine gun delivery of problems and solutions.
‘A Flat Ten’ (not ‘A Flat Tent’ as one lyrics website has it) has a furious, but controlled velocity with Colin Newman’s delivery an immaculate display of wordcraft and delivery.
‘Smash’ has a terrifying salvo of guitars and an almost power pop immediacy (incidentally, the drums provide a crisp, neurotic backbone throughout the album). ‘Down To This’ is an ominous tale; lamenting dissolution.
Finally, ‘Red Barked Trees’ closes the album with intense acoustic strumming backed by bouncing, skittering bass thst grows in stature to a grandstand climax. The repeated “To find the healing red barked trees” offers hope in suggesting a cure for all the problems that have been outlaid over the course of the album.
Red Barked Tree is untethered from Wire’s back catalogue to a degree that Mark E Smith would find impressive. It’s almost as if their history itself does not exist. This is unmistakably a Wire album but the band sounds so fresh, so vital, so urgent that this could easily be mistaken for a debut album by a young band wearing jeans too tight for them. You wonder if it would have been worth putting a different name to this, to stop reviewers reaching for their copies of Pink Flag. The bottom line is, however, this is an excellent album; intelligent, passionate and immaculately constructed.
The Maitlands – ‘Dissatisfied’ (2019)
Chugging away to keep you satisfied…
The tedious maelstrom of life and the overbearing cack handedness of trying to please people bears the brunt of The Maitlands latest missive. What can you do when chisellers and freeloaders snipe at you? What to do when you flog yer guts and get scorn?
The Maitlands, that ever expending ensemble of heroes are creating buzz all around town. Their care free attitude and commitment to having a good ol’ sing song are drawing in fans, as well as more and more band members. ‘Dissatisfied’ is causing waves, smashing 2,000 Spotify in a couple of months. The summer saw festival appearances at Cotton Clouds and Blackthorn, and headlining their own gig at Academy 3 on Sat 10th August.
You look like a dickhead, I look like one myself from time to time…
‘Dissatisfied’ shows a band in full sway. It’s a drawling garage rocker built on a riff resembling the Velvets ‘Sister Ray’, except if the Velvets had been bought up on Vimto, not smack.
On top of this Carl weaves pithy one liners about the perils of trying to appease the unappeasable.
Scratting around behind the undergrowth…
The best thing about The Maitlands these days is just how well the songs are put together. Because the band members are breeding they’ve got a lot of instrumentation going on. Other bands would struggle to not get swamped. Instead every element is crisp and clear, each instrument can be heard playing it’s part, telling it’s own story. Everything is separate and nothing tries to take over. Best of all the drums support the music without cock blocking the words.
Taking a piss at the side of the M45…
Meanwhile Carl seems to sing and intone ‘Satisfied’ differently every time, meaning he can’t even keep himself satisfied. Some people.
The Maitlands can be heard on spotify, and your favourite download vendors including:
Also, The Maitlands enjoy Vimto.
Total Victory – National Service (2012)
Total Victory are a band having their cake and eating it. Delicately walking a balance between shiny accessibility and standing on a soapbox, they provide enough on their 2012 National Service to please a healthy cross-section.
The sound is built on sharp, fluid guitar and bouncy, buoyant bass. As the album continues the music grows more groove orientated. The influence of motorik and punk grows increasingly apparent. This is an album of two halves and sequenced perfectly. So much so I’m wondering if some light-weights may be lost on the way…
Daniel Brookes’ vocals and lyrics are maybe the best thing on display. In an almost accent-less voice he opines and ponders, critiques and hold court. It’s like a mish-mash of Terry Hall, Mark E Smith, Jarvis Cocker and Gang Of Four’s Jon King with the occasional quip worthy of Nigel Blackwell. Offering a wide array of social critiques presented in a clear, almost monotone manner he is great proof that less is more, much more.
Thanks to the lyrics each song has its own character and offer a wealth of food for thought. I already know I’ll still be contemplating some of the gems offered here for years to come. It’s rare to see a modern singer putting such thought into not just what he is saying, but what he has to say. This is an album where you are left eager for a lyrics sheet.
Let’s look at some of the key moments:
‘Churchbuilder’ starts with an intro of plaintiff piano before rolling out the chiming 80s guitars. It all sounds fairly radio friendly, the sort of thing you could hear playing in the local trendy Hummus bar. However, the first chorus you hear alerts you that proceedings may not be as cosy as you first thought:
The natural order: the son kills the father
But the father killed the son
The father killed the son
The order was reversed and the father killed the son
‘Secession Day’ has a smooth rolling gait while Brookes spins a story of a small town’s misguided quest for independence that could be a Glastonbury friendly variant of The Fall’s ‘The NWRA’ or about 25% of Half Man Half Biscuit’s back catalogue.
Just after 1pm they renamed the town
And raised a new flag inside the market
Wrote a new national song
Designed new national clothes
And ate new national food
‘Holy Cross’ has a great groove not a million miles away from the realm of Alternative TV with stark guitars dropping in occasionally. A stripped down combination of vocals and bass works perfectly. Over 6 minutes the song grinds out a heady 4/4 stomp. Like steadily chugging a couple of pints of Guinness this is bold, heady stuff.
‘Advice For Men’ is great stuff, inverting Gang Of Four’s anti love song ‘Anthrax’ with a spoken word set of instructions and guidelines. Honest, useful and a long way away from the usual post Lad Rock cock o’ the walk toss-baggery.
I know the sounds obvious
But it’s easy to fall into the trap
Of only meeting women in bars
Here’s the ugly truth: less than 5% of men
Will meet a girl in a bar
Weren’t expecting that were you?
‘King Of Discipline’ is where the band really embraces the inner Gang Of Four with an extended, almost psychedelic march of guitars while Brookes finally loses his cool and starts throwing out a chain of words, leaving the listener to fit the pieces together themselves. Then he starts screaming the killer chorus of ‘I am the king… of discipline’. The album ends with the whole band singing the following which links us back to the title of the album:
And put me in the army
Meanwhile ‘Reverse Formation’ is a bit more of a straightforward indie disco tune. ‘Venn Diagram’ is mid album instrumental sounding vaguely kratrock-ish. By the end of ‘What The Body Wants The Body Gets’ the song has dissolved into the defeated dirge of Joy Division’s Closer from what started as an aggressive Gang Of Four clarion call. Or what about the stomping title track offering spiralling guitar and slanted social satire vox pops:
18 year old,
3 D’s at A Level.
Do you think there are prospects for your television career?
Total Victory are provocative and bold while never losing sight of the need for a catchy melody or a crunching groove. Continuing the lyrical and musical traditions of many of Britain’s finest bands yet with a strict and forceful sense of their own unique identity, Total Victory have delivered a stunning album with Nation Service. They’re not only keeping the flame alive but fanned into a beacon.