The Rolling Stones, Wilco
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The Rolling Stones/

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]

DURING THE RUN-UP to Christmas, commercial giants stalk the music retailers, while all but the most daring of smaller creatures scuttle into hiding until January. 'Tis the season of the box set and the greatest hits collection, of sweated record company assets and of final paydays for fading names. A hundred cumbersome back catalogues lumber across the horizon, heavy with familiarity.
 A Christmas cheer or two, then, for a couple of releases which shy away from the obvious. You wouldn't expect there's much left to discover about a band so relentlessly publicised and leveraged as The Rolling Stones. It's not as if they (or many others) have a Dylanesque profusion of hidden treasures to draw upon. Rarities 1971-2003 (Virgin ***) illustrates this by relying largely on previously issued live takes, remixes and B-sides. But some of them are well worth having, and several haven't appeared on CD before.
 Pick of the bunch is the extended mix of Miss You, the Stones' first 12-inch single and an item sought after for more than mere collectability. It stands up in its own right as a taut, mean disco classic. A song of the same vintage, Beast Of Burden, appears in a ringing, fluid concert version. Through The Lonely Nights, a 1974 B-side, encapsulates as well as anything the much imitated, shambling rock sound the band were soon to forego for tightly wound dance music.
 An equivalent round-up from their golden mid-to-late-Sixties period might be more intriguing still, assuming that licensing would permit it.
 Live albums are not often fondly thought of - and for good reason. Generally they constitute a sub-par, fanbase-gouging best-of. The best examples date from the heyday of jazz, when improvisation and adventure were hallmarks of each individual performance. So it makes sense that Wilco, one of the few rock bands to share that sense of adventure, should produce the satisfying Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (Nonesuch ***).
 Wilco are an Americana sextet who think like a bebop act - a quality which places them far ahead of all but a few contemporaries; and, added to excellent songcraft, makes them a marvellous prospect, regardless of context. True, like most live albums, this will principally interest their fans - but there's no good reason not to be one of those.

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