Thursday, November 20, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WILCO - ALPHA MIKE FOXTROT: RARE TRACKS 1994 - 2014
Part two of the Wilco 20th birthday celebration is this new four-CD collection of rare cuts, to accompany the two-CD best-of set What's Your 20? reviewed earlier this week. The group has been sneaking out this gems over the past two decades every chance they get. When they released a single, it would get non-album B-sides. Sometimes those would differ in Europe. If a radio station wanted, they would play live, and that would come out, maybe on a local-only disc. The group's label would send out special promotional items to stations and reviewers (thanks Warner!) that had obscure numbers. Songs were remixed for airplay. Movie soundtracks would get new stuff. There were downloads for fans. Now, here it all is. There's a lot of it, and it's grand.
There are plenty of versions here that differ from the originals, some for better, some worse, some that take on new forms live, some that are played for a lark, and are treated as such. The nice thing is, Tweedy doesn't try to edit this too much. For instance, he says he can't see why anyone would want to listen to the band do Steely Dan's Any Major Dude Will Tell You, which they contributed to the soundtrack of Me, Myself & Irene, but I love the thing, almost as much as I love the original. A crazy, punked-up version of Passenger Side from a 1997 live show is nothing special to me, but I'm sure there will be some that appreciate it. There's that connection with the listener again, Tweedy lets us decide. He couldn't stand the radio remixes insisted on by the label in 1999, but played ball and let them be done. And even though he thinks they still sound dated and desperate, they are here as well.
The biggest surprise is just how much there was once it was all brought into one spot; a dizzying 77 tracks. I'm pretty interested in the group, but I had forgotten they did a tune for the SpongeBob SquarePants movie (Just A Kid), or the great version of One Hundred Years From Now, where they punk up a country tune for the Gram Parsons tribute disc. And those were some of the few I already had. There are so many terrific works-in-progress, like the demo for Monday, that are new to me. This really is a present to fans, especially for those who never got to see all those delicious promo and B-side treats over the years.