Not much can be added to what has been said about Wire over the past thirty years. An essential group for understanding almost all of the derivations of pop music since 1976, the legacy of Wire has been reclaimed a thousand times: by the champions of hardcore –“12xU” was a habitual cover on the set lists of Minor Threat and Dag Nasty; Henry Rollins used to cover “Ex Lion Tamer”; Die Kreuzen did the same with “Pink Flag”– as well as the champions of Brit pop—is it really necessary to tell the story of “Connection” (Elastica) versus “Three Girl Rumba” again?– and even the early swords of post-rock –Bark Psychosis, Laika or Main, among others participated in the tribute album “Whore” (WMO, 1996) – not to mention cyclical reclaiming by post-punk, electro-pop, and so many other declinations that end up pivoting on the British group’s work.
But there are many influential bands, and what distinguishes Wire from the majority of them is how constantly in tune with the times it has been, across times. A constantly mutating entity, at the end of the 70’s it shifted from punk to post-punk; after a break in activity from 1981 to 1985, they threw themselves progressively into electronic music; and during the death throes of the 90’s, they reinvented themselves again, this time under the umbrella of art-rock, after a somewhat confused adventure as Wir. With this record, the first thing that is surprising about “Red Barker Tree”, their twelfth album, is the constant stylistic references to the founding trilogy consisting of “Pink Flag” (1977), “Chairs Missing” (1978) and “154” (1979), their attachment to a previous incarnation of Wire. And in this sense, one notices the absence of Bruce Gilbert, who left in 2004, the most radical spirit of the group, the experimental driving force behind Wire. Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey –previously known as Robert Gotobed– seem to have lost their desire to investigate, to venture into new territories. And so we find ourselves with an infallible work, a sure bet that no one will dare to challenge—it’s Wire sounding like Wire!– but which hides behind its attractive appearance the fears of three old men afraid to make mistakes, afraid of having lost precisely that sense of being in tune with their time. And faced with this perspective, noblesse oblige, the most logical, respectable manoeuvre is to take refuge in the comfort of what has already been done and unanimously applauded. That is the strategy of “Red Barker Tree”. And it’s a pity, because Wire always knew how to make really good mistakes.
This doesn’t mean that “Red Barker Tree” is a bad album. On the contrary: “Please Take”, “Two Minutes”, “Clay”, “A Flat Tent” and “Smash” are immense, sensational songs, some of the best that will be heard in 2011. They’re so good that they could have been part of Wire’s repertoire in 1981. Listeners will have to decide for themselves whether that is a compliment or not.
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