109-Piece McNuggets

The latest Nuggets box set dips into the psychedelic sauce of Sixties Britannia

You know what I miss in my popular music? Glutinous basslines. No, not big basslines--those are everywhere, from the subwoofer tremors of club music to hip hop's gut-wrenching Jeep-rattle. I refer to something altogether less mannerly, something that in fact couldn't be ruder, both in concept and execution. I'm talking about basslines that sound like they're bleeding off the master tape and onto the furniture, that gum up the stereo until they fuse all other instruments to the floorboards. I'm talking about basslines that were created by wrapped wire vibrating over wood and magnetic pickup, but sound as if they were discovered amid some sort of primordial ooze, like the rumblings of the adolescent libido made audible. A sound that is so bumptious, so clumsy yet arresting, that it distracts attention from everything else.

Such glorious subsonic activity is all over Rhino's new, 109-track Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire & Beyond 1964-1969. Ostensibly, this four-disc package is a sequel to the consensus pick for the best reissue of 1998. The previous collection, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, was one of the most glorious instances of overkill in box-set history: a crammed-to-the-gills monument to one-shot Sixties garage-rock boy bands who stacked the lower rungs of the Billboard charts by figuring out that gurls is difficult. British Empire, in turn, is an extended tribute to low-end miracles of engineering malfeasance and the id run rampant. Whereas the previous volume emphasized the hyper-chromatic midrange of cranked Vox guitars and Farfisa organs, the most memorable stuff on its followup is treated with an almost dub-like production, adding an otherworldly tinge to such highlights as Tomorrow's propulsive LSD tribute, "My White Bicycle," and Les Fleur de Lys's "Mud in Your Eye."

Yet such sonic details don't represent the primary difference between the two volumes; rather, the distinguishing factor is that the first box contains all American artists, and this followup contains mostly British ones, with the occasional Australian, Japanese, or Brazilian contributors. The accents are obviously different: American Mick Jagger wannabes from the Sixties tended to bark, whereas even the most Americanized disciples from Britannia merely sneered. And where the Yanks on Nuggets I would nod toward tradition by tearing into yet another "Hey Joe" rewrite, the Redcoats push past the recording meter's red zone. Nuggets II is a more reverie-heavy collection, with occasional folkie interludes (acoustic guitars, ponderous woodwinds) balancing the testosterone-driven angst.

But other than these distinctions, both volumes espouse business as usual in teenage wasteland: Chicks are sought, chicks are uninterested, the rejected male howls his fury. And ultimately, the stack-flipping, chapped-fingered record collectors are entertained. The song titles say it all: "Your Body, Not Your Soul" by Cuby & the Blizzards, "You're Driving Me Insane" by the Missing Links, "Bad Little Woman" by the Wheels, "But You'll Never Do It Babe" by the Boos, "Kicks & Chicks" by the Zipps. Ah, this is truly geek-revenge paradise.

Well, not completely. This Rhino reissue features all the label's trademark moves along with all of its usual missteps. Mixed in with the masterworks are the marginal collectors' items (an unrecognizable David Bowie's debut single), overlooked gems (Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything" is chosen over the all-time garage raver "Gloria"), and kitsch (the Yanks got "Incense and Peppermints," so the Brits get "Pictures of Matchstick Men"). Yet lead compiler Greg Shaw has successfully pieced together a first quarter of garage music that admirably mirrors the first box's perfect keynote disc, which returned to circulation the original, Lenny Kaye-compiled 1972 vinyl double album that gave the series its name. Kaye's collection didn't exactly birth punk rock--it was more like the drunken gleam in its father's eye on the night of conception. Perhaps Nuggets II will help right the sorry state of current U.K. rock--and its sexually frustrated garage-revival boys--by bringing its passions to a similar fruition.

 
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