Another magnificent release from Wire: another lesson in how to make a great rock LP. This is a measured album, drawing breath at the right times, not looking to impress; and controlling the tempo and texture in equal measure.
The best thing about Red Barked Tree for me is that it can be listened to as a pure pop LP, or you can delve into all the subtexts that are present. And neither factor undermines the other, result! It’s such an enjoyable, flexible album, not looking to push the listener into a corner or asking anything upfront. It’s ultra-confident in that respect.
One of the most noticeable elements in this release is the strength – the sheer sing-along-ability – of the lyrics. There’s a very prevalent feeling that on this release the words are pushed to the front of the listener’s consciousness, that they, and the way they are sung, are an essential part of this particular musical equation (listen out for the phrasing on Please Take, just the way the words are delivered seem to conjure up a chord change; or the way they create visual collages that are sensual and menacing in Now Was, or dreamy in Adapt). There are the usual gnomic pronouncements, such as on Bad Worn Thing and A Flat Tent; word images thrown about over sturdy backdrops. And then, there’s the use of lyrics as some sort of amalgamated percussion, such as on Moreover.
Overall, the record is less visceral in feel than some of their recent work; and in that, there are similarities to Colin Newman’s work in his other band, Githead. I get this feeling mostly from Red Barked Tree’s sleekness and reflective nature. There’s also a strain of woozy psychedelia that suits them very well. Being a Wire LP, it would be daft to say that everything is quiet and reasonable, and on Two Minutes Colin Newman adopts the street preacher role (for guess how long), over a growling gritty wall of guitar noise. Moreover also tramples over any feeling of delicacy; the song sounds like a machine escaping from a factory.
So, how to sum up? It’s a fucking great album and should be regarded as one of the best LPs of the year.