Friday, August 03, 2007

Box Sets Suck 4: Nuggets II

Nuggets, Vol. 2: Original Artyfacts From the British Empire & Beyond (Rhino 2001) is much less consistent than Rhino's first Nuggets box. Apart from the jaundiced imitations and what sounds like blue-eyed soul (on a garage/psych box? why?), there are just too many overrated tracks including all of those by The Pretty Things and The Eyes (even the one below doesn't justify their rep), The Factory's proto-motorik "Path Through The Forest," and, above all, Tintern Abbey's "Vacuum Cleaner" (get off your lysergic-soaked ass and help with the vacuuming, buddy!). Gawd, if ever there was a song proving that the sexual revolution did not happen in the 1960s, it's this one - the precise point at which tripped-out bliss becomes smug laziness.

But Nuggets II rocks more on the deconstructive tip. The pimple poppers on the first Nuggets box displayed a confidence in their own burnt-through structures even though they frequently hid from girls behind them. The bunch of sweeties on Nuggets II, however, hover over their creations to gaze at how they're working. They make you aware of their songs as texts. I'm thinking of Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle" and the way the band tries to emulate the opening suckfest of tapes that never knew tomorrow. Or the way sirens and rapid fire bullets swallow up Sands' "Listen to the Sky" before a prog nightmare war march ends the song in a completely antithetical place from where it started. Most of all, I'm thinking of "A Midsummer's Night Scene" where John's Children kick up leaves at a white witch ceremony and the "petals and flowers!" chant visits the climax from another tape world. I read somewhere that the band thought the mix sounded like shit. But that's why the track fascinates. It's not an organic whole but rather a song that primps and preens in a mirror at itself using various colored muds as eyeshadow.

Which means the positions from which these songs are sung are similarly deconstructed. The personae radiate both "I" and "Not I" as they collapse the inside with the outside, the masculine with the feminine, the LSD with the spot of tea and crumpets, the rocking out with the couldn't possibly be bothered with rocking out right now, love. It's a combo that The Sweet would streamline and take to the top of the charts in the next decade. But the sweeties here remain baffling, their motives unreadable. Did The Acid Gallery need such fat-bottomed riffs to "Dance Around The Maypole?" Why does the Blossom Toes' drummer cook more than the eggs that are boiling in "When The Alarm Clock Rings?" And speaking of which, who on earth would sing such couplets as "Think of things you'll do during this new day of toiling/Think of things you'll wear while your eggs are boiling?"

Who are these people? I mean, we know who, say, Caleb (Quaye) "really" is (answer: not related to Tricky). But the authorial voice in "Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad" is so shook that it's difficult to position yourself in relation to it. You feel like you're imposing upon the song rather than listening to it. How else respond to someone whose main complaint is that he has to strain his ear to understand us? How else respond to a guy buried in layers of psychedelic muck and whose voice is phased into oblivion? No wonder why he has trouble hearing.

And yet I'm overstating things a bit at least in terms of my condensation below. Nuggets I-style burners outnumber the effete deconstructions, from The La De Das' "How Is the Air Up There?" (what a great insult!) to The Creation's "Biff! Bang! Pow!" (now we know what a Roy Lichtenstein painting sounds like) to The Zipps' "Kicks & Chicks" (didn't know Mark E. Smith had relatives in The Netherlands). And my favorite song is The Idle Race's relatively straightforward and Apollonian "Days of the Broken Arrows" just like my favorite song on Nuggets I is The Remains' similarly straightforward and Apollonian "Don't Look Back."

But still - why is there more a deconstructive spirit in Brit psych/garage (and in later voices like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Steve Solamar, Ben Watt, Billy Mackenzie, etc.)? Is it because Britain has ceded world bully status to America? Does deconstructing your own subject position leave you more open to attacks or more prepared for them? Do I respond to the Idle Race and Remains tracks most viscerally because I'm American? Will American song become more deconstructive in the twilight of its empire?

Nuggets from Nuggets II
(Bozelkablog 2002)

1. The Creation: "Making Time"
2. Fire: "Father's Name Was Dad"
3. The Move: "I Can Hear the Grass Grow"
4. The Smoke: "My Friend Jack"
5. Tomorrow: "My White Bicycle"
6. The Eyes: "When the Night Falls"
7. The Idle Race: "Imposters of Life's Magazine"
8. The La De Das: "How Is the Air Up There?"
9. The Sorrows: "Take a Heart"
10. The Mockingbirds: "You Stole My Love"
11. John's Children: "Desdemona"
12. Caleb: "Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad"
13. The Easybeats: "Friday on My Mind"
14. The Move: "Fire Brigade"
15. The Creation: "Biff! Bang! Pow!"
16. The Bluestars: "Social End Product"
17. John's Children: "A Midsummer's Night Scene"
18. Sands: "Listen to the Sky"
19. The Idle Race: "Days of the Broken Arrows"
20. Episode Six: "Love Hate Revenge"
21. Status Quo: "Pictures of Matchstick Men"
22. The Downliners Sect: "Glendora"
23. The Creation: "How Does It Feel to Feel"
24. Timon: "The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane"
25. The Zipps: "Kicks & Chicks"
26. The Acid Gallery: "Dance Around the Maypole"
27. Kaleidoscope: "Flight from Ashiya"
28. Blossom Toes: "When the Alarm Clock Rings"

Total Time: 1:19:35


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