Wire Red Barked Tree
Pop music has had few lovers as frigid as Wire. From punk brusqueness to electronic abstraction, the band has spent much of the last 35 years detaching melody from its intended context, a clinical way of conceiving songs made even more clinical by icy surfaces and distance. But Wire’s most recent album, 2008’s Object 47, had an inviting plasticity, a generous sound and melodious sheen that hinted at a possible thaw. That’s all gone on Red Barked Tree. Aloof, brittle, stiff: This is Wire as it ought to be. The album starts with “Please Take,” a riposte against backstabbers forged from murky, dispassionate hooks vaguely reminiscent of the group’s classic “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W.” Like tranquilized schizoids, cofounders Colin Newman and Graham Lewis drag the rest of the disc through a minefield of otherworldly guitar, distorted beauty, and listless paranoia that culminates in Red Barked Tree’s eponymous closer, a jangling drone that spotlights Newman’s crooning, sinister hypothermia. Still, Wire manages to muster enough anxious energy to turn songs like “Moreover” and “A Flat Tent” into punk spasms—and “Two Minutes” into a Stooges-meets-spoken-word mutation. The irony is, Wire’s music has always had a strong emotional core, one described by the palpable absence of sentimentality; on Red Barked Tree, that negative space—a reflection of pop’s false warmth, and perhaps of humanity’s greater estrangement from itself—is frozen even harder than usual.