Review Summary: The simple pop hooks of "Pink Flag" dragged on twice as long and without any energy.
January 12th is my birthday, and there are two things I am looking forward to. The first of which is me getting tickets to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor live this coming March, and the second being a new release by a band I’m actually very fond of, the legendary Wire. If you don’t already know, Wire is one of the most important bands in transitioning the first wave of punk rock into post-punk and art punk territories. With three classic albums already under their belt (“Pink Flag”
, “Chairs Missing
”, and “154
” consecutively), there really isn’t any pressure for them to make another classic, as anything else could just be deemed superfluous. But knowing Wire, I know they’re incapable of releasing anything that isn’t at least good (sans that awful “A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck
”), and knowing me I realized that my impatience would get the best of me so I decided “why the hell not?” and allowed myself to listen to the album in its entirety through a live stream online.
Well I’m sorry to have burst my own bubble (and by “burst“, I mean, “mutilate“) but “Red Barked Tree
” is not only a bore
and a chore
to sit through, it’s without a doubt one of the band’s worst
albums, ironically enough, recalling the dull dribble that was “A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck
If there’s one goal that I can presume Wire wished to achieve on this release it’s that they were dead set on creating an album reminiscent of 1980's style production. Everything is so compressed and over modulated. The chorus pedal and ring modulator are overly abused transforming the guitar into a lifeless entity vaguely resembling anything that requires human interaction to make noise. The drums are buried in the mix with only the slightest of subconscious notion that they’re present keeping you from forgetting about them completely
. The bass, to be frank, is nonexistent
most of the time. It’s impossible to notice any of the subtleties in the tones or the ambiance of the songs. Everything is just a singular, baby blue shade of “blah” pleasantness.
The only moment where their attempts at a layered guitar sound only really works well on the third track, “Adapt”, which almost comes off as an exercise in shoegazer (except that it lacks the distortion to alleviate it from achieving anything beyond the status of “dream pop”). Perhaps the biggest slap to the face besides these weak attempts at dreamy psychedelic pop is Wire’s attempt to sound “punk” on songs like “Two Minutes” or “Bad Worn Clay”. Besides the fact that neither
song is aesthetically pleasing, they’re both dragged on for what seems like an unnecessary length. What happened to the philosophy of a young Wire, who would play songs only until they got bored with a riff or ran out of lyrics? Maybe they all decided to take Ritalin and put a particular emphasis on trying to be lyrical for this album.
And that brings us to another letdown on this album, the lyrics. If you’re looking for any redeeming qualities in this department you’re going to need a pair of high-powered night vision goggles, or else you‘ll be left stumbling around in the dark. “It’s a hoot, even if that point is moot
” is simply one of the many embarrassing examples of Wire trying really hard to have every single line rhyme, like an amateur first grade poet would. It doesn't help matters at all when the vocals are delivered in a second rate Andy Partridge impersonation type manner as they are here. Each line that I can presume was meant to have an emotional or intellectual impact falls flat. "Please take your knife out of my back, and when you do please don't twist it
" is repeated ad nauseum
and is delivered in such a clumsy manner that you'll be pressing the fast-forward button just to get through to the chorus.
To Wire’s credit, some of the songs do sound as if they snapped out of comatose and actually got excited
to write some new songs. “Moreover” is actually somewhat heavy, and “A Flat Tent” is rather "punky" and reminiscent of classic Wire. One may presume that my criticism of the band not
emulating their past styles is myopic thinking on my part, however, I do believe there is nothing wrong with a band playing to their strengths and realizing they're not particularly talented in certain areas of music. When they're writing blistering bursts of punk rock, or, avant-garde takes on post-punk Wire is absolutely brilliant
. They simply lack the fine ear to texture or the desire to sound beautiful
required to make this music particularly interesting.
The most disappointing aspect of this album is by far
the fact that most of these songs could
be good. None of them are actually poorly written, they're just enabled flaccid due to questionable production techniques and an overall lack of energy on the band's part. If you listen closely you can hear a neat angular guitar line, or what could be a nice thumping bass line that is instead masked behind layers of drab chorus and reverb effects. What should
be cathartic washes of layered guitar noise hardly every elevates above the "roar" of a mosquito buzz. It’s as if these songs were initially written by a minimalist and then fed into the "AOR machine" to be turned into mush. Simply put, the production absolutely kills
In a world where all punk rock nowadays adheres to a level of “rapscallioness” of Dennis the Menace proportions (or in other words, “tame childishness”), you would expect one of the pioneers of the artistic viability of punk rock to be able to craft an album that at least proves to be made of sterner stuff than their contemporaries. No, instead, "Red Bark Tree"
manages to be an album that is unengaging on several different levels. Wire has failed deliver us anything resembling intelligent punk, engaging psychedelia, or beautiful dream pop and have instead decided to let out one long, bored "sigh" expressed in harmonious fashion alongside the bored sighs of whomever is listening to this album. Happy birthday to me, I guess. *tosses handful of confetti, blows out the single candle in my cupcake*