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Press: Red Barked Tree

At a time when back catalogue outsells fresh creativity and newcomers achieve fame by adding a lick of paint to their parents' record collections, it's unusual to find a band who, despite plying their trade for decades, are willing and able to make new work that's as vital and relevant as their own illustrious past recordings. Wire are such a band, and with Red Barked Tree they just might have succeeded in making a statement that will sound as strong in 30 years as their celebrated historical oeuvre does today.

Red Barked Tree rekindles a lyricism sometimes absent from Wire's previous work and reconnects with the live energy of performance, harnessed and channelled from extensive touring over the past few years.

Red Barked Tree was conceived, written and recorded mostly during 2010 by the pared-down line-up of Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey, with no guests. Ranging from the hymnal Adapt to the barking sledgehammer art-punk of Two Minutes, the album encompasses the full palette of style and nuance that has always endeared Wire to pastel-tinged pop aficionados and bleeding-edge avant-rockers alike.

Whatever Wire make is Wire music: this is the band's enigmatic guiding axiom. While Wire remain agnostic about the nature and identity of their aesthetic essence, it's always been instantly recognisable, manifesting itself throughout their heterogeneous work. Perhaps this enigma will be revealed when we find the "Red Barked Trees"...

Red Barked Tree, track by track, in the band's own words; derived from conversations with Wilson Neate

Please Take

Graham Lewis (GL): "Please take your knife out of my back and, when you do, please don't twist it": this lay in my notebook for six years awaiting the right melody. Sarcastic stoic records Pyrrhic victory, employing seductive melody in lethal "fuck-off" song. Let's pass it on for universal usage.

Colin Newman (CN): There's a fantastic, expansive elegance between the three basic elements: the drums, bass and rhythm guitar. If it's not the best Graham song on a Wire album, it's certainly one of the best. I hope it's not about me!

Robert Grey (RG): I was asked to propose a track sequence for the album, and I found it difficult initially. Then I realised that if I thought of the tracks as a series of scenes in a play or a film, it made it easier. I like the idea of the tracks telling a story: the story was the album from beginning to end. "Please Take" was my choice for the opening track—it has an introductory feel, a sense of trouble brewing maybe...

Now Was

CN: Rhythmically, it's a bit like "Brazil." It came fully formed. Like most of the songs, it was very fast to write; it only took a few minutes. The arrangement is a classic example of what happens if you take something that's just acoustic guitar and vocals and throw it in front of Wire: they don't do what you expect, and they do it effortlessly.

GL: It's about those aristocrats of arrogance, horrible cynical middle-aged men...

RG: I interpreted it as referring to one very specific person...but that particular person could also be part of the general group Graham mentions. It was originally called "Wizard of Was," which I rather liked.


GL: One of the first texts written for the album. It's a kind of where-are-we, state-of-the- world address: observations about extreme climate change and disaster, the failure of financial markets ("fairness flounders, sincere cheats"), child labour, hollow politics. Even Chekhov gets a name check.

CN: I knew it was a hymn as soon as I'd written it. When I presented the song, I said, "This is a Christmas hit!" I can just hear the St. Agnes Girls' School Choir singing it as a Christmas single! Originally, there was some swearing in it, but I asked Graham to take it out: you can't have swearing in a song like this. There's something absurd about the song, but it's completely beautiful.

RG: After we'd recorded "Adapt," I forgot about it, and when Colin sent it to me as one of the mixes I thought, "This is so good." It's my favourite track. It moves you emotionally and physically. It has a pleasantly melancholic feel—not depressing, though.

Two Minutes

CN: This is the one track that pre-dates 2010. It's from 2001. I made the basic riff for Read and Burn 01 but never developed it. I brought it into the studio this year and, as soon as Rob and Graham started playing on it, it sounded absolutely awesome. Then it just needed some random shouting on it. "Fuck" isn't appropriate in "Adapt," but in "Two Minutes" it's fair game.

RG: I did think the words were very strange until Colin told me that he'd collected them from random texts. I'm not sure where he found these, but that would explain why it didn't seem to make immediate sense. It sounds like it makes sense to the person who's speaking it, but it's a very odd construction. Although it's odd lyrically, musically it's definitely recognisable as Wire—as one of our heavy numbers.

GL: It disrupts the album nicely, and it makes things a little more multifaceted. Contains "umbilical cord twang"!


GL: It is what it is. Ingredients include compressed "Fly" frequencies.

CN: It's really got very little in common with "I Am the Fly." There's a bit more of a tune to it. It's got that cheeky Wire sound. If you take away the bassline, it doesn't actually sound like "I Am the Fly." So you can blame Graham!

Bad Worn Thing

GL: It was originally called "The Overcrowded Nature of Things" but became "Bad Worn Thing." Written from observations made during a couple of bloody awful days spent travelling in England or, better put, trying to travel in England: a dreadful train journey that laid bare the inadequacies of the British transport system. Add to that the ambient noise generated by the early morning drum 'n' bass soundtrack for the fevered trade in sex and drugs in London's East End, UK, Inc.


CN: The first time we played it in the studio, the engineer said, "You make a big fucking noise for three people!" I was trying to get across the idea of a mad preacher, with a moronic riff. It's Wire unleashed. Wire always manage to sound like Wire, even though there's no actual brief that says what Wire are supposed to sound like. That's a key element in how it all works.

GL: Or a moronic preacher with a mad riff?

RG: "Moreover" has intensity and simplicity, and the fact that the studio engineer said he liked it was a very good sign!

A Flat Tent

CN: It's quite Wire-like, without sounding like any particular Wire song. I love all the stops in it—they're ridiculous. Only Wire do songs with stops like that.

GL: Its working title was "Ten." A new title was necessary. There's a hold in the song on A␣, so I combined "A Flat" with the first title and manufactured "A Flat Tent."


GL: It's where roadkill meets potatoes, hence "Smash"—as in "For Mash Get Smash" from the old British TV commercial. You are what you eat? A few of the images also suggest something of a perverted Narnia...

RG: How would you like your potatoes with that roadkill? Roast, boiled or mashed?

CN: It's less of a chorus and more of a car crash. I love the way the chorus sounds like something went seriously wrong—like one of those '80s Japanese pop records where it suddenly goes into something you really didn't expect. I like that idea. It has an absurdity to it. For ages it was called "Spuds."

Down to This

CN: It's about everything being shit, on every level you can possibly think of—and the only thing you've got left is death. Graham thinks it's one of the best songs I've ever written. But I find it pretty depressing.

GL: It projects a creeping sense of doom: urban malfunction... What happens when ALL the lights go out?

RG: Well, it's not cheerful, is it? We all die at some point, and you can't be cheerful all the time. It contrasts nicely with "A Flat Tent." You have a diverse spectrum of emotions on the album. That's a good thing, involving the listeners' full breadth of emotion.

Red Barked Trees

GL: It's about dismay and hope, and the wonder of technology versus the ancient knowledge of alchemy. Will we destroy rare invaluable flora and fauna before we can research and exploit their unique properties? In the end, is it going to be the red-barked tree that's going to hold the cure for cancer? Or Google:

CN: It's magnificent. It has the quality of a journey. Obviously, there's always more than one meaning, but I like to think of the search for the red-barked trees as a search for the philosopher's stone or maybe soma: maybe an artistic quest for the thing that will enable you to understand everything. The whole album is more lyrical than anything Wire have done for a while, this track especially. It's got an open-eyed beauty to it, looking at the world as a mysterious place. It's more like Pentangle than Wire! Wire have never made a track anything like it: it's in 3⁄4 time, with acoustic guitars, bouzouki and organ. It's an innovative track for Wire—perhaps the most different. There's nothing in our catalogue that sounds anything like it, and that pleases me immensely.

RG: We stole it all from Pentangle! It's certainly not a rock beat, but is it a folk-rock beat? It's more musical than the average Wire song. When Colin sent me the mix, I commented that it was post-moronic, because Colin always says Wire songs have a moronic element in them, and what's missing here is that essential moronic element. That made it stand out. It's my second-favourite track on the record. If "Down to This" was like a burial scene in my overall narrative of the album, then "Red Barked Trees" is a resurrection: it's uplifting and hopeful. It has a sort of healing theme to it. Hopefully, that'll stay with listeners—we don't want to leave them depressed at the end.

Red Barked Tree lyrics

Please Take

Please take your knife
Out of my back!
And, when you do
Please don't twist it!
I felt the stab in my blind side
A poisoned blade to paralyse
A cosh of cash, a net of drink
To anodise, no longer think, so
Please take your knife
Out of my back!
And when you do
Please don't twist it!

F—— off out of my face
You take up too much space
Move! You're blocking my view
I've seen far too much of you

Please take your knife
Out of my back!
And, when you do
Please don't twist it!
I won't hear another word
Another sugared lie
I won't be a part of your
Latest alibi, so,
Please take your knife
Out of my back!
And when you do
Please don't twist it!

Now Was

You're the wizard of was, becalmed in because
The nawab of no, with no place to go
A grandmaster crashed, whose future has past
The wazir of fear, now: Seer of the year

Used up and broken, f——ed up, bespoken
The wear and the tear are easy to behold
Where once was a diamond, now hides a sly man
A corpse of corruption, in rancid decay

Archduke of rebuke, the pharaoh of fluke
The Lear of sneer, once pick of his peers
Charming and hazy, the Llama of lazy
You sit on your hands, 'til the trouble has passed

Eyes that impressed, now idly, undress
Trust once shared, is beyond repair
Pledges sound hollow, which promised tomorrows
They float to the floor, forming lakes of dead skin

A new broom is coming, I hear it close, humming
So near and so loud, drowning out my last words


The tide is high, sandbag your street!
Converging, swelling channels meet
The torrent roars, banks are breached
Stay calm, be cool, a part at least

The brakes are on, controlled retreat
Quick-go-slowly, heart valve weak
Fairness flounders, sincere cheats
Disgraced champions, taste defeat

Beware the timely statement leak...
The trigger is the price of meat
Barricade your first floor doors
Evacuate your sick and poor

Be larger picture, stronger, deep
Be good, be bad, be more, elite...
A prince of bread, a pint of peace
In Middle Earth, in Middle East

Go east, go north, go south, go west
Leave mouths open, with your best
Adapt to change, stay unimpressed
Adopt: 'Chekov', to family crest

Two Minutes

Just what I need
Shoot on Sight
Leaking while you vote, four days left
A dirty cartoon duck covers a village in shit
Possibly signalling the end of Western civilisation
As if I give a f——
Evidently side tracked
Positively indisposed
Elevated by restitution
And do you know what?
Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness
The umbilical twangs
In f and ecstasy
In the ring, on the cut in 5 minutes
Just what I need
Wear your star with pride
Shoot on sight
Compose questions later
Religious Vomit.

Opera in the age of fragmentation
Much Later

I'll tell you who I hate on a daily basis


Turning red
Adopting styles that seem inbred
We're made of lead
Stay on the pace
Recoup the loot, avoid, disgrace
Sink without trace

It's a hoot
Run ahead and blindly shoot
Hit the marker, end dispute

Marking time
Laying boundaries out in lime
A life of crime
Drift away
Never find the urge to play
We're made of clay

It's a hoot
Hit the marker, end dispute
Even if that point is moot

It's a hoot
Even if that point is moot
Run ahead and blindly shoot

Phasing in
Wondering when it's time to begin
The chances thin
Emptied out
No doubt it will end in a rout
We lack the clout

It's a hoot
Run ahead and blindly shoot
Hit the marker, end dispute
Even if that point is moot
Run ahead and blindly shoot

Bad Worn Thing

Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers
Frisking pimps and dawn car dealers
The Fat Controller's transport inches
When stealing lives, he never flinches

Observe the poker party aces
In champagne bars, unlikely spaces
Unnerving, swerving shifty places
Where little works or convinces

Follow me! No explanation
The future sold, the Chancellor paces
The growing pains, associated
With a past which no-one faces

They clip their speech
They clip your wings
The absent tribe
Of missing links
The absolute
Of vodka kings
The over crowded
Nature of things

It's a bad worn thing!


Persuading analysts
Engaging catalysts
Employing empathy
Avoiding chemistry
Pushing out envelopes
Enhancing isotopes
Refining registration
Avoiding isolation
Surfing without a sail
Banged up or out on bail?
Flying without a pill
Break out exerting will
Swerving and gently rolling
Slipping and softly falling
Review and regulate
Rebuilt and recreate

Mathematically precise
React, evolve, entice
Regroup then dissipate
Annoy exasperate
Linked hands and strolling through
Locked horns with abject crew
Winging and heading blind
With nothing left behind

Avoid analysis
Employ a catalyst
Persuade with empathy
Engaging chemistry
Pushing the envelope
Mutating isotopes
Insist on registration
Persist in isolation
Hung out without a care
Swerving without a spare
Banking without a spill
Climbing a higher hill
Shifting and sweetly calling
Sifting and mentally trawling
Rebuild and regulate
Review and recreate

Mathematically precise
React, evolve, entice
Regroup then dissipate
Annoy exasperate
Linked hands and strolling through
Locked horns with abject crew
Winging and heading blind
With nothing left behind

A Flat Tent

Reset your circuit breakers
Carry out undertakers
Blow away the slightest traces
Deal yourself a hand of aces
New techniques for self-transmission
GPS, pin-point position
Product recourse making hay days
Target locked on head-up display

Return to favourite places
Commissioned art in public spaces
Regurgitate in a panic
Regenerate, post-Hispanic
Blackouts cover, blind attraction
Magnetic souls give mental traction
Run-away days, weekend saviours
Harbours with a hundred flavours

Be a man down
Be a psycho relic
Face a lock-down
Become vitriolic
Relate closely
Mother money

Roll out your measured phrases
Find yourself in yellow pages
Degenerate into static
Empire building democratic
Nude review provides salvation
Chance encounters, assignations
Planting weeds in deep incisions
Scourge yourself with Holy visions

Be a man down
Be a psycho relic
Face a lock down
Become vitriolic
Relate closely
Mother money

In a clamp down
Get pre-historic
Lock a face down
Key is electronic
Deflate slowly
Mother honey


I remember what he said:
"We are all like spuds and bread!"
Crash at random, road-kill rage
Tarmac trauma auto slain!

I remember what he claimed:
"Shadowed blood and spit remains!"
Fur and guts and stone chip stain
Broken bones on the inner lane

I remember what he said:
"Count to ten when you see red!"
Plus plus ultra uber rage
Plus plus ultra uber rage

Behold the woods of yesterday
Just beyond the motorway
Saw a stag walking away
Thro' the frame of faraway

Down To This

Replaying accidents
Deploying precedents
Before the trial by fire
The evidential weight
The lens that can't create
The signal stretched on wire

Before you know it's
Taken hold it's coming down to this again
Before we know we're
Running scared it's coming down to this again

Fragmented symmetry
A tarnished history
A haunted youth in fear
No guiding principle
Coded invincible
No heaven far from here

Before you know it's
Taken hold it's coming down to this again
Before we know we're
Running scared it's coming down to this again

All I know is, time will waste us all
Time will fade us all from sight
In between clouds, spirit moves us on
Stretching time across the night

Red Barked Trees

Find yourself in opposition
Rid yourself of superstitions
Deploy a mask, get night time vision
Safety off, get in position

A mother's guilt, a daughter's pain
The father failed to take the blame
The search is on, in southern seas
To find the healing, red barked trees

A day of pain, of push and shove
A hidden strength in velvet gloves
Sky writing planes sketch oaths above
In graphic loops an act of love

Traders rampage, on the loose
Dealers howl and hurl abuse
The market growls it eats the weak
Buys children farms in busy streets

A privileged few, a charmed elite
Can slash and burn as they retreat
The search is on, in southern seas
To find the healing, red barked trees