They play alternative guitar music better than any young British band you can name.
Garry Mulholland 2011
The odd thing about Wire in 2011 is their complete absence of oddness. When UK post-punk’s most influential band first split in 1981, dropped by EMI after their first three era-defining albums failed to shift units, they splintered off into weirdo art projects like Dome, mixing obscure performance art and intellectual pranks with abstract noise heavily influenced by early mentor Brian Eno. When they reformed in 1986, they refused to play their early classics and made a kind of surrealist boffin-pop, occasionally New Order-dancey (Ahead), sometimes powerfully experimental (A Serious of Snakes, Drill), but mainly glistening, melodic, even pretty, as exemplified by mini-hits Eardrum Buzz and Kidney Bingos. And it’s with the latter modus operandi that they’ve stayed for 20 years, despite losing a member (Bruce Gilbert) and inevitably bowing to nostalgia by performing legendary debut album Pink Flag live.
Wire, now, are a solid indie-guitar band based on great musicianship and production, and a seemingly endless supply of good melodies. If that sounds dull, it really isn’t. Their 11th studio album is 40 minutes of gorgeous nothings, full of intricate curlicues of sparkling Colin Newman guitar and synth given beef by the surging rhythms of Robert Grey aka Gotobed and Graham Lewis. Any group who have been making music together for well over 30 years without a sniff of mainstream success could be forgiven for sounding tired, grumpy and bitter, as The Fall have for the last decade. But Wire, who sounded old when they were kids, seem to be regressing into a youthful naivety. Opener Please Take sees the once droll and lugubrious Lewis spitting the kind of kiss-off lyric ("F*** off out of my face / You take up too much space") that self-righteous teen rebels write for their first punk band.
The only sad thing about Red Barked Tree is that few will hear it because many a station won’t play anything by old punks, unless they’re Paul Weller. But if you love alternative guitar music, you will love this, because Wire play alternative guitar music better than any young British band you can name. The oddest thing about that is that everyone name-checks Wire, but no-one listens to them. If I was them, I’d be telling the world to you-know-what out of my face, too.