When Wire’s Colin Newman and Graham Lewis unleashed the brunt of their experimental proclivities through Dome in the early ’80s, it came as quite a pleasant surprise. The duo had displayed a fondness for the left-field on 1978?s Chairs Missing and 154 the following year, but never had the abstract been embraced as wholly as it was on said side project. Post-punk was now a vague recollection, a spectral whisper sewn into industrial and ambient fabrics to produce surrealist ikons. Reverie.
Perhaps most impressive during this transition, Dome’s efforts swallowed the light from our rooms without reeling into suspended vagrancy. While certainly recondite, these releases were also remarkably fluid, twisting the roundabout and demanding into transportive ditties gleefully ignorant to the realities of time and space. They were always headed somewhere.
Since reuniting in 1999, it no longer feels as though the trio is roving…anywhere. Its latest entry picks up right where 2008?s Object 47 left off by not doling out punches or rolling with them, but trailing in the cleft dividing the two stances. Wire’s second wind is an awful drag and Red Barked Tree is unfortunately again painted with this noxious hue. It feels utterly interminable for a 40-minute pop record — particularly criminal for these former champions of boisterous and occult punk brevity.
There’s an evident friction between the album’s predominant poles. In its grit and grime, ‘Two Minutes’ lives up to its billing as a brooding uptempo rock number. Maundered speech and incriminatory vocals engage in a clangorous tug of war atop rollicking percussion and buzzsaw guitars, tension weaving in and out of the frame, anxious tides lapping up against a shriveling precipice. ‘Now Was’ and the wonderfully grainy ‘Moreover’ share this vigor, Wire’s restlessness of old creeping up and beaming out to jolt the derelict out of slumber’s vise grip.
Meanwhile, the limp delicacy of 80s pop surfaces on opener ‘Please Take’, wafting neither here nor there for the duration. ‘Adapt’ commences sluggishly and fails to propel itself forward, aiming to mine depth when minimalism has been such a reliable ally for the troupe. Kind-of-dreamy-verging-on-fey, it’s a downright horrid tune fit for a slow-motion pivotal movie scene. 25 years ago.
‘Bad Worn Thing’ furthers the tour of once inconceivable valleys by adopting a middling new wave amble and over-enunciated phrasing analogous to one protracted, embarrassing wink to a puzzled audience not in on the gag. Wondering whether this is an elaborate farce is about as abhorrent a thread as one could imagine, and if one had only heard Wire’s late 70s material, the notion would crop up on a number of these brittle-if-not-entirely-effete tracks.
Drifting toward pop circles is by no means a pock in and of itself. However, one gets the sense even Wire doesn’t believe in its recent material, markedly apprehensive in standing up front and owning these songs. It may be hesitance, but it strikes as nonchalance when decrying “the age of fragmentation” on one song and then relinquishing its druthers on the next — a glaring flub for the once galvanizing rock force.
As intimated on insipid ditty ‘Clay’, Red Barked Tree would prefer to “drift away”. Wire may hope to gently float into distant and forgotten reaches, but this here is an outfit which will eternally be tousled to the streets. As a result, the album never does negotiate the weightlessness it pines for, trapped in between the grimace it proudly wore ages ago and the pacified grin it can’t wait to sport.
Wire isn’t flustered by autumn. This is no midlife crisis. If anything, its latest effort falls in line with the last handful of Wire records, seemingly intent on accelerating the sands of time and abandoning much of the baggage integral to its past identity in preparation for the home stretch. This is yet another lumpish pop album by an act which won’t submit its heart and soul to the spirit of pop, filled with feeble hooks as well as scarce relics of three glowing young ruffians who simply won’t abide this self-satisfied decay. Long in the tooth, sure, but that doesn’t allow anyone to bite off more than they can chew.
Rating: 4.2 / 10
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