Home / Overlooked Alternatives: Genesis, Guided By Voices, Manic Street Preachers, Rufus Wainwright, Wilco

Overlooked Alternatives: Genesis, Guided By Voices, Manic Street Preachers, Rufus Wainwright, Wilco

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Huge week here. Huuuuuuge week. This is a real good one for the music freaks. This is one of those weeks where you just have to weigh your options and choose wisely, because unless you work two well-paying jobs, there's just no way you can afford it all.

Genesis – 1976-1982 Remixed and Remastered (all 5 albums): My favorite period of Genesis' history – the years just after the iconic Peter Gabriel had left the group, when the band shouldn't have been able to be a success, but drummer Phil Collins stepped up the mic and brought his own brand of iconic, if short, stature to the front of the stage, and somehow made it work. Many, of course, will be quick to point out that the band was simply a hit factory, but most of those who do so aren't even aware of the material recorded in the latter half of the 70s, when Genesis was still heavily focused on progressive rock instead of the pop charts.

The albums here, A Trick Of The Tail, Wind And Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, Duke, and Abacab, have been remixed by producer Nick Davies for both CD and surround-sound 5.1 DVD, the former a move that has been greeted by many with derision and upset, the latter scrutinized for a lack of sound quality. I'll leave that up to individual listeners – if you have complaints, remember, you don't have to buy these as you'll always have your originals to listen to. The DVDs include newly filmed interviews about the albums in question along with archival footage – some of which include lengthy concert performances (Trick includes a show with temporary drummer Bill Bruford.) For those with some extra cash, be sure and pick up the box set of all five discs which includes, of course, a box plus a book and an additional CD/DVD of b-sides from the era that have also been similarly remixed.

This, sadly, is one of the things I have had to pass on this week – I'd rather hear some new stuff that really excites me than things I know by heart, but I will get around to these sometime soon.

Guided By Voices – Live From Austin, Texas CD and DVD: As a Guided By Voices fan, I'm pretty excited by this. Of course, I watched the Austin City Limits episode when it aired, but knew it couldn't be a full show – GBV always puts on epic length shows and there was no way they simply played the nine songs that aired. As it turns out, I was right – but that's no big surprise as nearly every ACL release has had a few extra performances. In this case, however, there are TWENTY ONE extra songs, forcing this onto two CDs. As far as I know, this is the first double-CD Austin City Limits release. But, being Guided By Voices, you kind of have to see them to fully understand the experience, so I highly suggest getting the DVD – or both. Personally, I'm pretty excited to see the footage that didn't make it to the show, such as drunken vocalist Robert Pollard's rumored mis-introduction of Pete Yorn as "Thom Yorn."

Manic Street Preachers – Send Away The Tigers: Now, this may technically be out in other countries, but here in the US, it's not even coming out, so Amazon lists May 15 as their own release date, so I'm going with that. Regardless, it's unfortunate that the Manics have been so ignored in the states – they're one of the more intelligent straight-up rock bands out there, but I suppose that's probably what keeps them from success, ultimately. They don't cater to simple-music formulas, instead writing condemnations of societal ills that aren't easily glamorized (take, for instance, "Kevin Carter," which briefly addresses the photographer's expose' of a horrific South African tradition of public execution by "necklacing," his successes, and his ultimate suicide. Not typical subject matter by any means – but typical of their material.)

Vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield has one of my favorite rock voices of late – sort of a gutsy Dennis DeYoung – backed by rock that swings from anthemic to near punk. It's infectious stuff, almost from an era that doesn't exist anymore, yet touched by modern structures and flourishes that makes it impossible to exist at any other time. And yet they've gone ignored by at least those in the US, so they go without a label here. Sometimes music is so good it's worth paying extra to get the expensive imports. Manic Street Preachers are that good.

Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars: I am convinced that Wainwright is this generation's finest melodist. I can't think of a single young artist who so beautifully crafts vocals in such a way that it simply doesn't matter what he's singing about – you just want to hear the melody he's singing. And there is a lot of Broadway in his vocal style, but he uses it for good, not evil, turning out stunning performances in material that would normally have a nasal-voiced singer like him kicked out of every open audition he tried out for. Wainwright's vocals simply stretch beyond the normal – there's power and emotion that so few honestly display in modern rock. He's got me hooked and I'll be back for more.

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky: So much about this album has already been said – Wilco's been offering streams of the album on their site to stem the flow of mp3s on the internet for over a month now, and it's probably a double-edge sword. Everyone has an opinion. On the upside, they seem to have fairly well thwarted the file-sharing demon, as most people simply went and listened to the album on their site. On the downside, they're going to get a lot of negative commentary about the style of this album. I've seen a good many comments mention words like "lazy," "plodding," and "boring," and the oh-so-chic Pitchforkmedia deemed Sky Blue Sky a 5.2 (out of 10, and basically reiterating the comments I just mentioned), but, as a rule, I think most people should discount these naysayers. I'm not saying that Wilco can do no wrong, but I am saying that Wilco has turned out album after album of good music, much of it the kind of music that has proven itself worthy after many repeat listens. This album is no different.

Or maybe it is – in a way, Sky Blue Sky is the kind of laid-back music we don't really hear much anymore, hearkening back to the 70s, to the kind of music you sit and relax while listening to. Do people really do that anymore? I think that's the problem. Most people are "on the go people" who want "on the go music," and Wilco just isn't that kind of band, but especially not on this album. So I'm saying this: if you liked Wilco in the past, especially if you liked Wilco's quieter moments, buy this album. But don't listen to it if you're expecting Summerteeth or Being There or really even anything in particular. Just wait for the right moment when you're relaxed and then put it on. I think, if you're already a fan of their general sound, you're going to find something beautiful is going on with Sky Blue Sky that is far too easy to overlook when you're rushing about. In time, I think Sky Blue Sky will be viewed as a special Wilco album, a turning point of sorts, even. Don't miss out.

(And check out the formats the album is available in: CD, CD/DVD (includes live studio performances of most of the album), and vinyl (which includes the CD, but not DVD.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • Tom,
    Genesis did eventually devolve into little more than a hit factory under the leadership of Collins, but the albums covered here are good ones — at least up until Abacab, when the really, really commercial period began in earnest. It would still be a few years before things got as bad as We Can’t Dance of course.

    But Trick Of The Tail, Wind & Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, and Duke are all great records. Wind & Wuthering in particular features great songs like Steve Hackett’s Blood On The Rooftops. Trick Of The Tail has Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos, which were always an explosive combimation in concert.

    Now as for Wilco, as Josh would say: Buying the shit outta that one.


  • Tom, hope you don’t mind the diversion, but I knew I could reach you here.

    You are correct. I was teasing Mark about this week, bit of an in-joke that prompted him to begin his column in the first place.

    While I didn’t spend as much time as my buddy Fumo, I enjoyed what I heard from S&A on first listen and am curious how it will sound live. I’ve already got my tix for Irvine.

  • Glen: you know, I had written off Abacab for a long time after a bad experience with it many years ago (this being the album from this bunch that I didn’t think I particularly cared for), but I picked that up yesterday ($10 in Best Buy Reward Zone coupons made it a cheap-buy) and I have to say, it’s a pretty weird, fun album. And by weird I mean, aside from a couple songs, almost totally anti-commercial. I think the way these box sets are broken up is purposely split to define periods – the next one, 1983-1997, definitely defines their commercial period, with the self-titled album being a much more singles-driven album. But Abacab is just a weird, paranoid, squawky little beast that sits awkwardly between the amazing Duke and the self-titled album. I don’t know – I’m doing some serious re-evaluation of my previous feelings on this one. It’s definitely a much more interesting and rewarding album than I remembered.

    But you know, I have to admit that I actually do like a portion of We Can’t Dance – there’s actually some strong material on that album. There’s also wretched stuff on there, too, of course. Okay, it’s mostly wretched, but it does have one song I will continue to defend against all naysayers: “No Son Of Mine.” Love it, can’t help it. I also like “Driving The Last Spike,” and, to a lesser extent, “Fading Lights” and “Dreaming While You Sleep.” I’m kind of a sucker for Phil Collins’ voice and drumming, I admit it.

    El Bicho: Cool, man! I had hoped it was a joke, but was very tired when I read that and might have been incapable of receiving joke-cues.

  • Jane Ripley

    Although I don’t think of Wilco as mercenary, I do think in a way, this could be a possible commercial breakthrough for Wilco on their 7th CD. The reason being that this album will appeal to baby boomers for the most part who like this type of music and who still go out sometimes and buy a CD rather than downloading the music off the internet.

    I have only heard one song, but it was awesome and I knew they’d put out something of quality anyway–they always do.