Red Barked Tree is post-punk veterans Wire's twelfth studio album, coming out 23 years after their landmark debut Pink Flag. After all these years and all this material, you could forgive them if the creative well was running a little dry. What is both impressive and cheering to report is that they remain as vital, intelligent and important as ever.

The first song to be released to the internet, the menacing 'Two Minutes' fizzes away on a sea of nonsensical shouted lyrics about the shit of a cartoon duck and the end of western civilization. It's a fine song, but isn't really an accurate reflection of the album as a whole, which is a fully-rounded collection of discordant alt-pop. Opener 'Please Take' is carried on a simple, lilting melody, which contrasts effectively with singer Colin Newman singing the line "Fuck off out of my face" during the chorus. Elsewhere, the fuzzy, insistent 'Moreover' is a highlight, a relentless stomp of drums and riffing bringing a real urgency to it. 'Smash' is as fine an alt-pop song as you're going to find, whilst the band change gear on the excellent 'Down To This', a brooding gothic lament that has Newman's vocals cushioned by the band at their most ethereal, the result of which is oddly affecting.

Red Barked Tree can stake a good claim to being the first great album of 2011. The members of Wire may be in their mid-fifties, but this is no attempt to relieve former glories. Instead, it's the sound of a band who still sound energized, who are still trying to push the boundaries of what they can do with their music and are still writing terrific songs. Highly recommended.

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