Monday, October 15, 2012

RED BARKED TREE - Wire (2011)

Though loathe to admit it, for even the most ardent rock 'n' roll completists, there are bands...sometimes great bands...that escape one's grasp the first go around.  For me, Gil Scott Heron, whom I just discovered two years ago on his final solo release I'm New Here,  was one.  Wire is another.

So unlike most other reviews, I will not be examining late career recording Red Barked Tree in the context of how it relates to Wire's early lauded classics like Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, or A Bell Is A Cup...Until It Is Struck, for the simple truth that I have yet to hear them.

This review instead assesses Red Barked Tree as my point of entry into the band's body of work.

And taken in that context, it's clear I do need to start listening to those other albums, because Red Barked Tree isn't doing a whole lot for me.

There are a few things I like.  For one, the album sports an engaging rhythmic simplicity.  Musically, these are uncomplicated songs, but the instrumentation and song structures have a clarity of intent I find appealing.

There are also two genuinely excellent tracks...the raised-middle-finger opener Please Take, which is a textbook case-study in ironic understatement, and the album's feistiest number, the acidic punker Moreover.

But after that, the pickings are mighty slim.

Taken as a whole, this is an art-punk record with very little musical bite.

I'm tempted to reach and make thematic links between the album's title/cover, which seem to suggest an exploration of alcoholism as an emotional defense mechanism - and the actual music, which does have a similarly detached, protective but unassertive feel, as if conceived by a nasty drunk whose motor control has slipped too much to be a physical challenge, but who still sober enough to throw out a cutting zinger or two.

But in the end, such analysis lends more weight to this work than it probably deserves.

Red Barked Tree is a decent sounding, lackluster record with some fine, wry lyrics, but a number of flat, only mildly engaging songs.

It gets a mild recommend on the strength of its sound and those two fine tracks, and is probably a worthwhile addition for lifelong fans of the band.

But for others like me, who are just getting started in exploring what is reportedly one of the richest discographies in all of punk, I sense, from my limited perspective, that Red Barked Tree is probably not the place to start.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Please Take, Two Minutes, Moreover, Red Barked Trees.

Track Listing:
1. Please Take - 9
2. Now Was - 6
3. Adapt - 6
4. Two Minutes - 7
5. Clay - 6
6. Bad Worn Thing - 7
7. Moreover - 9
8. A Flat Tent - 5
9. Smash - 6
10. Down To This - 7
11. Red Barked Trees - 7
Intangibles - Low
Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon

Here's a music only video for Please Take.

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