Release Date: Nov 17, 2014
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Alternative Country-Rock
In the book that accompanies Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014, a four-disc collection of rare and non-LP recordings by Wilco, former Reprise Records publicist Bill Bentley admits that no less a legend than Doug Sahm thought he was making a mistake when, after Uncle Tupelo abruptly and acrimoniously broke up, Bentley opted to work with Jeff Tweedy's new band rather than Son Volt, Jar Farrar's post-UT project. "Come on, Bentley, you gotta go with the other guy," Sahm said, "he's gonna happen. " Which was certainly the conventional wisdom when Wilco and Son Volt launched in 1994 -- most fans seemed certain that Farrar was going to go on to a brilliant career on his own, and Tweedy's band would be a fine but lesser commodity.
Most bands languish in seemingly irreversible irrelevance well before they hit the two decade benchmark. There are no so such worries for Wilco.It’s been a while since their most striking works were unleashed at the turn of the millennium. However, the 115 tracks splattered across these two celebratory comps, released to mark Wilco’s 20th anniversary, prove the Chicago-based outfit remain a force to be reckoned with, even if their experimental zeal has dimmed a bit with more recent albums, which have sought to establish a satisfying amalgamation of the band’s past styles, as opposed to executing radical leaps into uncharted territory.
More than most latter-day rock acts, Wilco has largely defined itself with albums, as opposed to singles, videos or some attention-grabbing public persona. The Chicago band’s LPs stand as discrete bodies of work that comprise a greater whole, and they delineate specific eras in leader Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting, the shifting lineups of musicians playing with him and the way it all fits together. There’s no mistaking a track from Being There for one from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, for example, just as a Jay Bennett guitar solo exists in a different space than one from Nels Cline.
Over the past 20 years, Wilco have gone from plain-spoken alt-country to the pinnacle of experimental folk and art rock. Hear how that happened on this four-disc rarities set, which is often so raw it feels less like opening the vault than rooting around under Jeff Tweedy's bed. Hyper-low-fi demos of songs like 1995's "Passenger Side" show the first signs of the wry lyricism that blossomed on later albums.
Over their now two-decade career, Wilco has proven as durable as nearly any other rock band of their time, but they've never had any hits, per se: Their highest charting single in the U. S. , “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” peaked at #22 on the rock chart in 1997.
Wilco is commemorating its 20th anniversary as a band with two big releases: the four-disc rarities set Alpha Mike Foxtrot and the greatest-hits set What’s Your 20?. Both sets give us an interesting opportunity to look back on the band’s legacy without the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot looming over everything. Both sets have plenty of tracks from that era, to be sure, but without the album itself we get to look at the band without seeing a series of albums that are underestimated or ignored for coming before or after that classic record.
Near the start of Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a 77-track collection of rarities, alternate takes, and live tracks from across Wilco’s 20-year career, Jeff Tweedy can be heard worrying about whether he has a place in the long line of great singer/songwriters that came before him. "You already know the story, the chords are just the same," he sings, accompanied by strums and warbling cassette ambience. "You already know I love you, now I sound like what's-his-name." When he recorded the demo of "Someone Else’s Song", Tweedy was entering a scary new phase of his musical—and personal—life after the dissolution of alt-country heroes Uncle Tupelo, in which he mostly played second fiddle to fellow frontman Jay Farrar.
The release of a pre-Christmas boxset is often a way of cashing in on a dearly departed band – getting the fans to shell out once again for familiar songs in a stylised format. Not with Wilco. Marking the band's twentieth anniversary, the release of Alpha Mike Foxtrot finds them still very much a going concern, recently reuniting after a period spent apart working on various solo projects.
This bumper set of outtakes, demos and live versions is not the only compilation from Chicago’s country-turned-noise terrorists-turned-dad-rockers being release in time for Christmas. In fact the 2CD best of, What’s Your 20?, which also spans Wilco’s entire career, succinctly webs the precious ebb and flow of their music (albeit with no new material), and actually paints a prettier picture. Alpha Mike Foxtrot is unwieldy, bound only by chronology, with not one track that seems to have been unfairly previously unreleased – and it often leaves you pining for the “proper” versions.
There's a perfunctory, fan-service quality to any longtime band's collection of outtakes, rarities and live performances. Yet this four-disc peek behind the curtain of adventurous Chicago rock outfit Wilco fascinatingly lays bare the band's ambitions — and, often more intriguing, its faults. It's not often that a band is as open with its rubbish as Wilco is on "Alpha Mike Foxtrot," a collection that's just as forthright with admissions of guilt for leaving a gem off a record.
Wilco Alpha Mike Foxtrot (Nonesuch) In 1994, with grunge in full dirge and Uncle Tupelo broken up, Wilco led alt.country into the mainstream. Today, the Chicago outfit observes its 20th anniversary with a rarities collection sourced from its audio archive. The 4-CD set features outtakes and live tracks, complete with throwback photos and Jeff Tweedy's track-by-track liner notes that keep his dry stage humor intact.
In the retrospective innocence of the summer of 2001, the band Wilco had its fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” rejected by its label, Reprise, which deemed the gorgeous pop record too experimental for mainstream listening. That astoundingly bad decision set off a fortuitous chain reaction: Wilco left Reprise with the masters of the record; when the songs started to leak, the band responded by streaming free of charge on its website. By the end of the year, playing this oddly prophetic collection in the shadows of 9/11, frontman Jeff Tweedy listened in wonder as audiences in packed clubs and theaters sang every word of songs they hadn’t paid for.