Wire's Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978), and 154 (1979) represent perhaps the greatest opening triptych in rock history, up there with those by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Love, and Meat Puppets. The British quartet could have retired 32 years ago secure in the knowledge that they were one of the most important bands ever. On those albums, they perfected the meta-punk song ("Mr. Suit," "12XU"), cracked the code to perfect, highest-uncommon-denominator pop ("Outdoor Miner," "Map Ref. 41º N 93º W," "The 15th"), and scaled towering heights of experimental yet deeply emotional songcraft ("A Touching Display," "The Other Window"). You will search in vain for a single dud on these full-lengths.
Of course, Wire—Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey, and current tour guitarist Matt Simms, subbing for Bruce Gilbert, who departed without explanation in 2004—have soldiered on to the present day, albeit with frequent hiatuses and varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. Works like 1987's The Ideal Copy and 1988's A Bell Is a Cup... Until It Is Struck found them flirting with the US charts via a New Order–ish strain of electro pop that was equal parts sugar and braininess.
Wire's output over the last dozen years reflects a desire to strip rock down to essentials. Where so many rockers in their 50s squander any dignity and goodwill they've accrued, Wire have maintained high quality control. Which is what they've done with the new Red Barked Tree. Critical consensus declares it to be Wire's strongest collection since 154. They've honed the qualities that informed their 1970s releases (see first paragraph), minus Gilbert's skewed genius, obviously. The immediately catchy, taut tunes punch and swerve with a vitality of men half their age. On this tour, Wire will offer a mix of old and new songs, but it will be the rare case of an aging band's recent material holding its own with their prime efforts. They remain, in Newman's words, "The most famous band that you've never heard of."