It’s funny, a decade on from the Strokes/White Stripes/Hives “rock-is-back” moment, to re-listen to these 27 tracks and realize just how widescreen the founding “garage rock” document is in comparison. Those ’00s bands made their name by stripping everything away, but the majority of the bands on Nuggets, Lenny Kaye‘s still-amazing 1972 collection of suburban American kids’ experiments with amplifiers, are aiming for widescreen. The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream,” the set’s keynote, announces itself with a hovering fuzztone shard that’s like nothing so much as an Ennio Morricone harmonica sounding in the distance, signaling as much artful violence as a Sergio Leone western, only Kaye’s one-hit wonders tend to be a lot giddier.
Amazing fakes abound: Sagittarius’s “My World Fell Down,” which sounds like a frat-dorm dweller’s idea of what the Beach Boys were really trying to do with Smile; the Knickerbockers’ “Lies,” a perfect Beatles-’65 snarl; Mouse’s “A Public Execution,” a perfect Dylan-’66 gleeful leer. The Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” opens with some Who “I Can’t Explain” chords before future space-pop auteur Todd Rundgren redirects it toward something more obviously bubblegum (the unbelievably glottal bass sound is pretty chewy, too), not to mention way more studio-phased.
Of course, almost no one thinks of Nuggets as a bunch of songs anymore. It’s a totem, a landmark, a signal shot in the War Against Prog Rock and the Battle For What Would Eventually Become Punk, arguing against auteurist concept albums and getting-it-together-in-the-country songwriting sessions and in favor of one-hit wonders and nasty cases of arrested development. But you know that drill, right? Are you bored with it yet? Then put on this album and try to forget what it engendered. Nuggets is still wall-to-wall fun, perfectly paced, endlessly inviting. While it plays, history, including its own, seems less than relevant.