Wire’s Red Barked Tree: A Return to the Present

Wire’s Red Barked Tree: A Return to the Present

Wire – Red Barked Tree
Pink Flag | January 2011

It’s no irony – Wire stopped being ironic with their inception – that the track “Two Minutes”, on their newest album Red Barked Tree, clocks in at 2:01. As the band’s website declares, they’ve been “confounding expectations” since the release of their debut, 1977’s Pink Flag.

“Two Minutes” is a career-defining moment: one that acknowledges the past (and Pink Flag’s 21 tracks, some under a minute long, were a harbinger for the age of Attention Deficit Disorder, sound bites, channel surfing) – but provides a “welcome to the age of fragmentation” – all while employing one of their signature sounds, industrial punk.

As a fan of the band (not just their debut), it always amused me when someone would declare their affection and appreciation for Pink Flag – as if that’s when Wire stopped defining what would come. Their second incarnation (in the 80’s) would signal the approaching industrial influence in pop music (culminating in records like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless). The yin-yang braintrust of Colin Newman and Graham Lewis have always been ahead of the curve – their music career, to me, an infinite jest at the music industry’s expense.

Their present –and what could be considered third – incarnation (minus founding member/guitarist Bruce Gilbert) addresses, among other things, the aforementioned “fragmentation” (some say fracturization) of society, environmental issues – all very contemporary concerns.

But none of this would matter, really, if the songcraft wasn’t solid. And it is. Sonically, this might be one of Wire’s – dare I say – most listenable and accessible albums, with nods to their prior incarnations, but also some truly epic moments (“Adapt”, with treated piano and horn flourishes, is a thing of beauty), as well as more of the expected-unexpected (acoustic guitar!- on the title track).

Paradoxically, on Red Barked Tree, Wire continues to confound expectations by not confounding their potential audience – and that’s a good thing.

Smells Like:

Gene Brunak

Mr. Brunak (as his students occasionally refer to him) is a high school Journalism/English teacher in Portland, Oregon. He subjects his wife, two kids and dog Duff (how nuclear!) to various forms of popular culture; they've expressed their appreciation by offering all the latest personal electronic devices as "gifts".

2 Comments
  • Cory
    Posted at 01:58h, 27 January Reply

    Chairs Missing certainly confounded my expectations. I noticed they’re in town in April, I think at Dante’s. Could be an intriguing show…

    • Gene
      Posted at 17:33h, 27 January Reply

      Yes! Dante’s – April 12th – it’s a MUST show for me…my hope being the show comes off (first time I tried to see them – at the Knitting Factory in NYC – they weren’t granted visas, show was canceled). They’ll be playing Coachella this year…only 11 shows in the US.

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