What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014

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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. What's Your 20? includes representative selections from Wilco's eight studio albums, as well as the two Mermaid Avenue albums they cut in collaboration with Billy Bragg and, along with a bunch of great songs, it offers a map to the emotional peaks and valleys of Jeff Tweedy's songwriting, from the country-influenced rock of "I Must Be High" and "Casino Queen," into the bold explorations of "Misunderstood" and "Sunken Treasure," and the cool, pitiless self-analysis of "A Shot in the Arm" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," a remarkable musical journey that took less than seven years. The album also offers a satisfying summary of the band's best and most stable lineup that coalesced after A Ghost Is Born, and delivered warmer but genuinely exciting songs like "Hate It Here," "Impossible Germany," and "I Might." What's Your 20? was released at the same time as Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014, a four-disc box set for serious fans featuring outstanding Wilco tracks that didn't appear on one of their albums; this album is the opposite, a more concise (but still hefty) sampling of the band's best known and most accepted work, and this is most easily recommended to casual fans and folks looking for an introduction to the group's music. However, those listeners will certainly be well-served by this outstanding selection of tunes, and if we did live in a world where Wilco regularly scaled the charts, there's little doubt these songs would have earned the band plenty of gold and platinum plaques. And who knows, they may yet some day.

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