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WIRE – Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

I have always had a fond affection for Wire, with their quirky new wave pop songs and their attitude of being unafraid to buck the system. Their first album ‘Pink Flag’, after which their record label is named, contained no less than 21 tracks, including the magnificent ‘12XU’, and I still count their ‘451’ as one of favourite albums. So, thirty years down the line can they still cut it as a relevant musical force? The simple answer is, yes they can. This album could easily have been made in their heyday, with the songs sounding just like the Wire that I loved. The odd sense of humour is still intact, as demonstrated by opener ‘Please Take’ declaiming ‘Please take your knife out of my back, and when you do please don’t twist it, Fuck off out of my face, you take up too much space’ – the 51st way to leave your lover? ‘Now Was’ is a nifty little post-punk song, while ‘Adapt’ comes over as a wistful ballad. ‘Two Minutes’ is classic Wire, with an insistent riff and spoken lyrics a la ‘Parklife’, followed by the more pop-orientated ‘Clay’. ‘Moreover’ is all distorted vocals and fuzzed guitars and is another track that belies the band’s age, sounding completely contemporary and relevant. ‘Smash’ manages to be both a catchy pop song and a fuzzed-out indie rocker at the same time, and ‘Down To This’ is a slower piece which uses its insistent rhythm to convey a distinct sense of foreboding. As if to confound us and contrast with everything that has gone before the album closes with ‘Red Barked Trees’, a five and a half minute acoustic piece, which although it is still a fine song seems to wind the album down in a less than satisfactory way. Still, not bad for a band who have been going for more than 30 years, and with pretty much the original line-up of Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and the fantastically named Robert Gotobed now going by his given name of Robert Grey. If you are old enough to remember Wire from their first time round in the late 70’s, or their second bite at the cherry in the late 80’s then you know what a fine band they were, and this album shows that they still have what it takes to be that fine band again.