Released in late 1997 two years after a reformed X with guitarist Tony Gilkyson called it quits for good and twelve years after original guitarist and founding member Billy Zoom departed, Beyond & Back: The X Anthology is a sprawling 47 song retrospective that covers this legendary punk bands entire career. Not a "Best Of" set or "hits" package (as if they had any hits) this anthology set is instead a valentine of sorts for fans of the band who while familiar with the group still hungered for a bit more from them after they were gone. Overflowing with outtakes, demo's, rarities, raw live recordings, and different mixes of various X classics, this is not an album for newcomers to the band or the uninitiated. Rather its as said before, a rough and ready set for existing fans of the band who want to recall or experience for the first time a glimpse of X not seen before. It has some hits. some misses, a little bit of wtf, and a whole lot of oh yeah! Not for everyone, but for those with a passion for this group its just fine.
With just 11 of its 47 tracks being original studio cuts pulled from officially released albums the set has a lot to offer those who don't mind lots of rough edges and sometimes downright poor recording quality, as some of these tracks had been lost in peoples attics on cassette tapes for a good 18 years before finally dug up and put to record. Of the better known original studio fare we get the title track from their debut album "Los Angeles" to start things, the tough sounding, riff heavy hard rock of "The Hungry Wolf" from their third , the punked up desperate and in love tune "I'm Coming Over" from the "Wild Gift" album, and the rootsy classic "The Have Nots", again from their third long playing release "Under The Big Black Sun". Also included are a few nuggets from thier fourth release "More Fun In The New World", including the rockabilly pop song "Poor Girl" and the incendiary, flat out of love and luck tune "True Love Pt 1", all taken from the Billy Zoom era of the band.
But as said before what makes this set of interest to those its aimed at are the not so commonly heard tracks included here. An alcohol fueled "The Worlds A Mess Its In My Kiss" that finds a drunk Exene Cervenka wailing away like a wild banshee from the stage of the legendary Whiskey live music club on Hollywood's Sunset Strip that features hot Billy Zoom guitar licks that would make Chuck Berry proud, a propulsive and pounding live rendition of "How I Learned My Lesson" snatched from a 1982 show, raw, poorly recorded versions of "Beyond & Back" and "Back 2 The Base", and decent sounding live takes of "Some Other Time" and the hard rock stomper "Universal Corner", which first appeared on the bands Wild Gift album.
Of the outtakes and rarities of particular interest are little heard singles and demo's such as fan favorite "Delta 88", this excellent rave up somehow missing the cut the first time around, the punkabilly sounds of "Heater", rarely heard single mix's of "White Girl", "Blue Spark", and the ode to Exene's dead sister "Riding With Mary", which features producer Ray Manzerek on haunting piano. Early lo-fi demo versions of the rockabilly inspired "Johny Hit And Run Pauline" and the Doors cover "Soul Kitchen" are also included among the rarities, as well as post Zoom songs such as a studio version of "Surprise, Surprise" taken from the "See How We Are" album and demo versions of the title track from that album, as well as the Dave Alvin penned "4th Of July" taken from his brief stint with the band following the departure of Zoom.
If you are just getting into X or have been interested, avoid this collection at first and get the easier to swallow "Best Of" set "Make The Music Go Bang" which has some of the best material this band ever recorded, even if not complete. Or better yet take a listen to X's excellent 2005 live disc "Live In Los Angeles" which finds the reformed original line up of this group blazing through a set of classic X songs recorded at The House Of Blues Hollywood. Or perhaps best of all check out their first four albums, Los Angeles through More Fun In The New World, for a proper perspective of what this band was to the early '80's punk scene of Los Angeles and a sense of an artistic growth and arc. But if you already know and enjoy this band and their work and are musically adventurous enough to accept raw recordings, half-assed demos, a few curiosities, and a sense of time, place, and authenticity from one of rock n rolls all time great bands, Beyond & Back: The X Anthology might be just the set you need to wrap up your experience with this group and bring it full circle. Energetic, sloppy, and at times as drunkenly messy as this band has ever been, its a wild punk rock journey through some of the best tracks this band ever produced, but with a personal spin put on it for fans who asked for it all and finally got it. For better or for worse, this is X in all there tainted glory, ups and downs, and ins and outs. And for the X fanatic out there its a fine way to experience the group anew.