This might seem like a dodgy proposition, either as music or for the subject of an exhaustive retrospective like this, but the garage and psych revival of the '80s -- which also encompassed such diverse but related movements as power pop, British C-86 indie pop, the paisley underground, punk-blues, cowpunk, and surf rock -- was a surprisingly fertile scene, as this absolutely terrific box set proves. Far from sounding monotonous, Children of Nuggets has a tremendous variety of sounds, styles, and attitudes. As producer Alec Palao states in his introductory liner notes, the idea was to adhere to Lenny Kaye's idea for the original Nuggets LP, which was to "compile together the good tracks from all those albums that only have one good track," not caring whether the featured songs adhered to a strict definition of what was or was not garage or psych.
Of course, Palao and his co-producer, Gary Stewart, and their assistants on this project do have a template to follow and not just because there are bands that were tagged at the time as '60s revivalists. They have Kaye's work to guide them; plus they have the work of Greg Shaw, the journalist and record label head who championed this music at first in his fanzine, Who Put the Bomp, and then on his Bomp and Voxx labels. Stewart salutes Shaw at the conclusion of the booklet for Children of Nuggets, and in a way, this set does function as a tribute to the music Shaw helped shepherd during the '80s, since it celebrates all kinds of '60s-inspired guitar pop made in the post-punk years -- music that arguably wouldn't have existed without Shaw's input.
Yet, as the best music should, the music on Children of Nuggets transcends such behind-the-scenes particulars and exists simply as flat-out great music. Sure, there are some bands that faithfully re-create the sounds of the '60s, but most of the groups are inspired by the '60s, picking up their favorite elements -- whether it's dirty, raunchy guitars, jangling 12-strings, sweet harmonies, trippy swirling guitars, or catchy choruses -- and assembling them in a manner that sounds fresh, new, and invigorating.
The other big names are represented by some of their earliest and, in many cases, best songs: there's "(I Thought) You Wanted to Know" and "If and When" by Chris Stamey & the dB's, the Smithereens have "Strangers When We Meet" and "Beauty and Sadness," Primal Scream are captured in their pre-Screamadelica incarnation with "Gentle Tuesday," the Posies show a strong British Invasion bent on "I May Hate You Sometimes," Teenage Fanclub's "Metal Baby" is pulled from their cult classic, Bandwagonesque, while the Bangles show up with their earliest songs, "The Real World" and "Getting out of Hand," which was released under the name the Bangs.
A few songs here show up regularly on '80s comps -- the Hoodoo Gurus' "I Want You Back," the Lyres' "Help You Ann," the Spongetones' "She Goes out with Everybody," the Church's "The Unguarded Moment" -- but most of this is devoted to bands that had one or two songs that were staples on college radio and are now forgotten to all but the die-hard underground garage rock fans. Now that they're part of this compulsively listenable set, they help define the canon of underground rock and pop of the post-punk years: surrounded by other bands of a similar mind and vision, these songs sound like forgotten classics. And that's why Children of Nuggets is such a resounding success -- it not only shines a light on the bands that carried the torch for this kind of music in the '80s, this box, like the original double LP, helps rescue worthy bands from the scrap heap of history and, in the process, becomes an essential piece of rock history itself.
Fantastic box full of great bands and songs.
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