"Two Minutes"

Wire / Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

Hardcore fans of veteran art-punk kingpins Wire harp on and on about the band’s first album, Pink Flag, how it’s the only real true Wire sound anybody really needs to hear, etc., etc. A searing, blasting 21-song suite of rude, raw aggression and an odd simultaneous cool detachment, the critically hailed (and low-selling) 1977 record was enormously influential, most every punk band in the Minor Threat/Minutemen/Black Flag mold lifting at least a little something off it, and it was listed at number 410 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. But Wire’s core quartet of guitarist/singer Colin Newman, bassist/singer Graham Lewis, guitarist/noisemaker Bruce Gilbert and drummer Robert Grey (a.k.a. Robert Gotobed) changed direction following Pink Flag’s release, their subsequent Chairs Missing and 154 albums departing punk’s rigid formats in complexly structured and synth-/effects-laden explorations that, while turning off the literal-minded leather-jacket-and-Mohawk set, did almost singlehandedly create the “post-punk” genre and beyond. The band has evolved in stages since then, disbanding and regrouping sporadically to issue records further exploring electronics and a rock-bound sound-art, or in their most recent phase, a very brutal guitar/bass/drums minimalism seemingly designed to burn off the flab of their own middle age.

The new Red Barked Tree sort of flicks about among the varied range of Wire's early punkish-unto-arty endeavors, while dishing a bit less of the inferred violence of their last trio of albums. That could owe to the band’s advancing years, of course, but in any case there’s a wispy, gazing-grimly-at-the-setting-son vibe in this new Wire mode; the short-sharp-shock punky pop tunes are juxtaposed with more blatantly ominous and artily-veneered shades of song, such as the opening “Please Take,” whose (un)easy midtempo singsong guitar riffing rides Grey-Gotobed’s classic simpleness-defined drum-thwack mixed way up front; “Please take your knife out of my back,” requests Lewis calmly. “Now Was” boasts Newman’s trademarked Cockney choirboy irony on a “peppy” beat tune where the guitars are mixed light, airy and wiry – and it comes off ruminative; Lewis’ “Two Minutes”’ sludge-guitar segues into a mekanik-guitar & bass two-note riff-march atop an insistent snare thump that seeks to punish; Newman rants/invocates/confesses about something or other, or nothing at all. “Moreover” lifts its riff offa “Map Reference” from Chairs Missing; it’s all strident guitars, remorseless drum strikes, relentless bass throb and vocals barked as if through a megaphone or tin-can-string thingie; squeaks, squawks and cross-wired aural scratchy-scratch in the mix add to the general anxiety. “Clay,” another “accessible” Newman tune, is slowish midtempo eighth-note minimalism with one-note ringing guitars like an unattended-to car alarm. Things get tougher on “Bad Worn Thing,” a hellishly disco-thumping thing where Lewis gives us that sort of lecturing/censuring tone about – well, about unchecked growth without a sense of history, could be the gist: “They clip their speech, they clip your wings.” The album alternates between these rudely matter-of-fact head-slaps and melodic sweet-sourness, back and forth; the slow, orchestral intertwine of simple guitar squawk and stately single-note keyboard tones in “Down to This” give the obscure lyrics a feel of wary resignation. The final, title track is longish, just choochoos on through the forest; it’s a misty day, maybe, it’s a train ride to who knows where?

Wire in Bluefat Archive