Wilco – Whats Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 -2014

 

Over the course of their turbulent 20 year history, one thing has remained constant throughout  – Wilco release damn fine albums. In truth, it is something of a minor miracle that the band has even remained together (in one guise or another) given some of their well documented struggles. Drug addiction, endless line-up reshuffles, fractious relationships within the band and the kind of record company troubles that would have destroyed lesser bands have all afflicted Jeff Tweedy and his troupe at one point or another. The fact that they are still here, celebrating their 20th anniversary with this 38 track compilation is a testament to Tweedy’s resolve in particular.

There are not too many contemporary acts that could release a 38 track compilation album without some padding, the obligatory out-takes, demo versions and remixes – incredibly Wilco have taken care of that by releasing a 77 track 4 disk collection of rarities as a companion to this album.

So everything on What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014 is culled from the very best of their material – and their very best is very good indeed. As a reminder of Tweedy’s brilliance as a songwriter, it’s a spectacular success but more importantly, it charts Wilco’s development from an alt-country crossover act through to their boldly experimental incarnation during the early years of the noughties and then on to the more mellow soft rock of recent years.

The selection of tracks is pretty much on the money – the alt-country pop of Being There and Summerteeth is well represented with tracks like ‘Misunderstood’, Sunken Treasure’, ‘A Shot In The Arm’ and ‘I’m Always In Love’ providing evidence of Tweedy’s sophisticated pop sensibility – the influence of the Beatles on his song-writing was there right from the start. They hit their creative peak between 2000-2004; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born saw Wilco experiment with different sounds and recording techniques – the critics were united in praising them as one of the most important rock band in America. Listening to songs like ‘I am Trying to Break Your Heart, ‘Ashes of American Flags’ and ‘Hummingbird’ it’s easy to see why.

Wilco’s most recent brace of albums is under represented on this collection and it’s difficult to argue with that. Their recent output has seen a marked shift towards a more adult oriented sound – Tweedy’s song-writing ability is still very much in evidence but the creative edge has been dulled somewhat.

That said, What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 -2014 is a remarkably consistent, frequently brilliant document of the recorded output of one of America’s finest contemporary bands. For those of us who have followed them over the last 2o years, we can only envy those discovering these treasures for the first time.

 

(4.5 / 5)