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
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.
Merry Christmas, folks! Yes it’s that time of year when our reviews editor sends around his list of upcoming releases to be met with a resounding 'meh' as the DiS staff scroll through a roll-call of Susan Boyle albums, pointless re-releases, reality TV losers and pointless cash-in compilations that will soon be adorning a Tesco near you. But wait, what’s this? Surely a band as beloved and revered around these parts as Wilco haven’t lowered themselves to a pointless Best Of? Well no, they haven’t. OK they technically have a bit, but there’s really far more to What’s Your 20? than the bog-standard, record label-curated, lazily packaged hits compilation.
Wilco are a band who have shown that in the 21st century, a band can succeed creatively and commercially on their own terms, even without what would be considered a hit single, especially impressive since Wilco often seemed to be doing well despite their presence on a major-label rather than because of it. Which is why What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 is at once a welcome and curious release: it's essentially a greatest-hits album from a band that's never had a hit single, collecting 38 songs that have made some impression on non-commercial radio and become fan favorites during the band's first two decades. At the same time, What's Your 20? is also a fine "Beginner's Guide to Wilco," as the track listing gracefully charts their progress from a scrappy but heartfelt alt-country band that rose from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo to a thoughtful and imaginative pop/rock band with some outstanding players and an eagerness to experiment.
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.
Jeff Tweedy started his post-Uncle Tupelo career with a song of dire tribulation and tremendous woe. On “Passenger Side,” which appeared on a comp of St. Louis bands just a few months before the release of Wilco’s debut, the new frontman played the role of a dude who has lost his license and must thumb a ride from a friend. “You’re the only sober person I know,” he declares, but sobriety sounds relative.
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.