When Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye compiled the original Nuggets anthology back in 1972, it served two functions: collecting stellar singles by American garage bands who weren't exactly "album artists," and charting the drug culture's influence on late-'60s popular music. There've been variations on the Nuggets concept since, but most have circled the same five- or six-year period and the same sound. Rhino's new four-CD box set Children Of Nuggets represents the first real attempt to move past the "Nuggets era" and stockpile buried gems from more modern times.
That's such a big job that it could be approached a dozen different ways, from picking through the best of the recent, Nuggets-inspired "neo-garage" movement to exploring indie-rock's early-'90s singles-oriented explosion. Rhino's compilers—Alec Palao and Gary Stewart—set out on a more far-ranging and less easily navigable course. Picking up on the "psychedelic" designation in the original Nuggets title, Palao and Stewart go looking for bands that sound even a little trippy, like the early-'80s Los Angeles "paisley underground" scenesters, Gotham garage punks like The Cramps and The Fuzztones, proto-Britpoppers like The Dentists and Primal Scream, and Australian mystics like The Church.
This approach has its flaws. The connection between all these bands can be tenuous, and the connection to the original Nuggets bands even more so. Some of the more traditionalist garage-rockers from the '80s sound too much like they've borrowed somebody else's inspiration, while the free-spirited European acts often lack the gut-punch and finger-snap of yesterday's basement gods. And, as always with sets like this, it's too easy to think of musicians who missed the cut, like White Animals, The Woggles, 45 Grave, and Let's Active.
But these are nitpicks, and there's too much to like about Children Of Nuggets to get grumpy. Kieron Tyler's liner notes deserve special praise, as he openly confronts the limitations of the whole Nuggets genre, while documenting the rise and fall of several fertile scenes. It's equally enlightening to hear scorching tracks by The Lyres, The Fleshtones, and The Chesterfield Kings, all of whom kept the garage-rock flame burning in cold times, more than a decade before the Detroit scene brought the heat back. And unlike recent disappointing Rhino boxes dedicated to punk (No Thanks!) and college rock (Left Of The Dial), Children Of Nuggets isn't propped up with songs that every interested music buff would already own. By the time the set hits its second disc, the programmers are lining up one obscure wonder after another, hitting a precipitous peak in the middle of disc three with the one-two of The Stems' molten power-pop anthem "Love Will Grow" and The Spongetones' fractured Beatles homage "She Goes Out With Everybody." Both those songs would've been too self-conscious for the original Nuggets, but here, they've been precisely filed.