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CD Reviews:  The Minus 5: Down With Wilco

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Unbeknown to most, The Minus 5 have been making revolutionary but 
obscure music for the better part of a decade. Some half dozen 
releases have come and gone without much of a whisper from anyone but 
the deep alternative underground and the most discretionary critical 
community. Now with a new record, a modern-day “Rubber Soul” gone 
bad, former Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey goes for broke with a 
supporting cast of stars and a hip title, both in a desperate attempt 
at finally wooing the listening public.

Down With Wilco is just that. Over the course of 13 haphazard and 
disjointed tracks, McCaughey manages to accomplish less with more 
than anyone in recent memory. He’s called on Jeff Tweedy and the rest 
of the current Wilco line-up, but in an inexplicable maneuver he 
resources Tweedy’s lead vocals only once, on the sleepy “The Family 
Gardener.” So why bother even bringing a very average guitarist like 
Tweedy on board in the first place if his vocals aren’t going to be 
used, especially when you’re also enlisting the multi-instrumental 
talents of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck? 

All is not completely erroneous here. After all, there’s far too much 
firepower in this studio to not salvage at least some quality 
recordings. The wispy “Daggers Drawn” is a fresh piano trot, even if 
the lyrics make no sense. “Retrieval of You,” co-penned by Tweedy and 
McCaughey, also tugs at familiar chords and nearly plays out like a 
lost Beach Boys track. I find more redeeming value in the frisky 
“Where Will You Go?” than in any other song on the Down With Wilco 
project. Here the electric guitar parts get kicked up a notch and The 
Minus 5 honestly seem to break a modest sweat.

Unfortunately, the bulk of this well-intentioned but misguided 
collaboration falls painfully short of its mark. “Life Left Him 
There” sounds like a scrap from the editing room floor of an old 
Byrds album, while too many cuts just seem to drag on and on. The 
dreary spoken-word of “The Old Plantation” seems endless and “View 
From Below” is simply lifeless. The silly ballad “Dear Employer” is 
at least interesting as a disc closer, and Tweedy has even been known 
to include this in recent live sets. It does not, however, come close 
to rescuing this disc from its underlying character: boring and 
uneventful. In the future, while searching for side projects during 
downtime from their host bands, I’m going to recommend that Tweedy 
and Buck take up racquetball. 

~Red Rocker

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