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Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From the British Empire and Beyond (Rhino)

Wednesday, Jun 27 2001
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The granddaddy of all rock reissues, the Nuggets series dates back to 1972, when Patti Smith's future guitarist Lenny Kaye assembled a two-LP collection of his favorite American garage rock songs. The collection housed a wicked bunch of snotty, snarly '60s "punks" -- no-hit wonders who chafed at the propriety of the rock industry while cranking their Vox amps up to 11. Nuggets later expanded to over a dozen influential volumes, and paved the way for other archival series such as Pebbles, Desperate Rock 'n' Roll, and Girls in the Garage.

Handsomely packaged and beautifully researched, the new four-CD Nuggets II box levels its gaze past the North American confines of the original series, presenting a stunning barrage of psychedelic rockers from the British Commonwealth and beyond. While leaning heavily on well-known cult favorites such as the Creation, John's Children, Pretty Things, and Easybeats, the set also features a slew of obscure bands and lesser-known minor masterpieces like "Social End Product" by the Bluestars or "Say Those Magic Words" by the Birds. Still, fans familiar with the evolution of this collection may be disappointed by Rhino's conservative retreat from the original concept -- an International Nuggets compilation -- to one that focuses narrowly on English-only tracks. Apparently the label decided that foreign-language tunes were novelty songs and were thus verboten, a decision that is mystifying considering that Rhino built its empire on Dr. Demento collections and Fred Blassie wrestling albums.

Rhino's English-only edict may make sense from a corporate point of view, but it doesn't keep pace with new trends in the collector world, which is currently in the thrall of a flood of incredible Scandinavian, Latin American, African, and Asian rock reissues. Retro maven Alec Palao, who worked on the new Rhino box, led the pack with his own G.S. I Love You Japanese garage rock comps, while other sets -- ranging from the spunky French Ultra Chicks retrospectives to the mind-alteringly bizarre Cambodian Rocks collection -- show the dynamism and electricity of foreign rock. The charm of these albums is precisely that the artists are singing in their own languages -- bringing home the global impact of rock 'n' roll far more effectively than worldwide hit-seekers singing in flat, unnatural English. We can only hope that the success of Nuggets II leads to a third box set -- one packed with the previously promised goodies from those funny foreign folks abroad.

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Lawrence Kay

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