I make no secret about Wussy being my favorite band, possibly of all time and definitely right now. Every new release increases my admiration of them, even if it’s something as simple as an acoustic re-recording of their first album or a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Breakfast in Bed.” They’re just fantastic, and have an almost inhuman ability to make magic happen during every performance.
Wussy has had a good pattern of releasing a new studio album every two years. If they keep up that pattern, their next album should come out sometime this year. Their next studio album is easily my most anticipated album at the moment, but, even if they don’t release it this year, it’s safe to say they’ll release a few things to keep our ears occupied. They even began this year by releasing a free-download rarities album called “Bernice Huff and son, Bill sings Popular Favorites.”
Rarities albums are pointless if they’re released by less-than-exceptional artists. After all, the best stuff typically ends up on the studio albums. Only when a band is really terrific is a rarities album necessary. So, not only is “Popular Favorites” enjoyable, but it may be the most necessary rarities album since Nirvana’s 1992 “Incesticide.”
How necessary something is doesn’t indicate how good it is though, and this is definitely no “Incesticide.” Rather, it’s a fun collection that shows Wussy as a group that can be wonderful even when they’re not trying their hardest. A couple of the demos on this album sound better than most artists’ finished records, and the live recordings demonstrate the band’s marvelous chemistry.
In 2012, the group revealed themselves as a great cover band, releasing their versions of “Breakfast in Bed,” “Nomenclature” by the Seedy Seeds and “Retarded” by the Afghan Whigs (who the band spent a part of the year touring with). Two of those covers appear on “Popular Favorites” (“Breakfast in Bed,” one of my favorites of last year, is sadly absent), as does a new one, “Runaway” by Jenny Mae.
But the real gems on “Popular Favorites” are alternate versions of the band’s originals. Demos for “Jonah” (considered by many to be the band’s standard) and “Soak It Up” are about as terrific as the originals. The album’s most rocking moment is a live version of their most rocking song, “Rigor Mortis.” The acoustic “Airborne” is as good as it ever was, although “Funeral Dress II,” the album it was originally released on, may be a bit too canonized with the rest of the band’s work for it to be a rarity.
Not everything here is a must-listen. The live version of “Sweetie Sweetie” (which, even in its studio version, is something of a rarity) leaves a lot to be desired, while the only saving grace of the remixed “Maglite” is the fact that it’s still “Maglite.”
“Bought It Again” was the worst song on “Funeral Dress” (which, to the song’s credit, is a huge compliment), so its demo wasn’t exactly the most desired thing. Perhaps not many demos exist from “Funeral Dress,” but I would have preferred one for “Crooked” or “Yellow Cotton Dress.” The other demos more than make up for this, though.
Along with the music, another reason to listen to “Popular Favorites” is the interviews. Every now and then, like a skit on a rap album, a small interview segment will appear. These are worth hearing, just to be reminded of how hilarious frontman Chuck Cleaver is; something I never get tired of being reminded of. When asked what style he’s influenced by, Cleaver said hip-hop. When asked what band he would erase from musical history, he said, “Loverboy, of course,” before hilariously explaining how he would go about erasing them.
“Bernice Huff and son, Bill sings Popular Favorites” is far from perfect, especially when compared to the group’s studio albums (all of which are worth going out of your way to hear), but it is a nice reminder of how spectacular this band is. It’ll at least hold Wussy fans over until the next album comes out.
Grade: B PLUS
Key tracks: “Jonah (demo),” “Rigor Mortis (live),” “Runaway,” “Soak It Up (demo)” and “Nomenclature.”