Tried and True and Tried Again
What Wire have lacked in traditional popularity, they’ve more than made up for in epidemic pervasiveness. Even before their dissolution in the early ’80’s, shades of Pink Flag and Chairs Missing started popping up in the sounds of other emerging post-punkers like Joy Division and the Psychedelic Furs. In a cruel twist of irony, bands incorporating Wire into their own sound would reap far more critical and commercial fame. When listening to Wire’s new album Red Barked Tree, we finds ourselves contemplating the enigma of the aural “chicken and egg:” is this an admiring nod from progenitor to sonic scions, or is Wire presenting us with an homage to their own influences?
Opening track “Please Take” is reminiscent of early Kraftwerk and the Cars, featuring a one-note guitar solo right out of the Neil Young playbook. Two songs later, “Adapt” seems to show Wire playing the Medium of Endor for Disintegration-era Cure. In another two songs, “Bad Worn Thing” presents us with a panoply of the “Brooklyn Hipster” scene. You have to wonder: is it really imitation if you imitator your imitators? After a few listens, you get the sense that Wire are calling out their emulators as if to say, “Anything you can do, we did better.”
Wire isn’t merely being aloofly critical, though. Red Barked Tree is as much a commentary of what’s happened as an insight into their own influences. Gone are sub-minute songs like “Field Day for the Sundays” and “Brazil.” In their place, Wire have adopted a more krautrocky sound derivative of Can and Faust, complete with drummer Robert Gotobed taking on a sparser, motoric style. Red Barked Tree shows Wire balancing that precarious edge between being too curt and too “jammy,” allowing their songs to generally slip over the three-minute mark, but coming to a conclusion before slipping into navel-gazing, nouveau Grateful Dead territory.
Red Barked Tree is either going to scratch your decades-old itch for a new Wire album or drive you @#$%-ing crazy trying to figure out who each song sounds like. Either way, it’s refreshing to see older artists who not only aren’t trying to trot out the same forty-year-old pony every few years, but are still making viable, legitimately well-crafted music.