“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. When the song dissolves the band kick it back into gear again, offering said chorus for a grateful listener.
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 regardless of Wire’s heritage and influence. Intelligent, passionate and immaculately constructed, this is a dazzling album.