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Various Artists: No Thanks!: The '70s Punk Rebellion

Album: No Thanks!: The '70s Punk Rebellion
Label: Rhino

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Here's a one-question pop quiz: Rhino's four-disc '70s-punk box set No Thanks! is: 1) a pricey, disgustingly respectable presentation of songs already oversold by advertisers and Hollywood soundtrack packagers, betraying punk's original ethos of acid irreverence and populist furor; or 2) a generous collection of still-exciting rock 'n' roll that continues the mainstream/underground pop story begun by Rhino's Loud, Fast & Out Of Control and Nuggets box sets, providing much-needed context for the retro-rooted rock of the early 21st century. Naturally, ample evidence supports both claims. No Thanks! does favor well-known songs, serving up multiple tracks by Ramones, Buzzcocks, and Blondie, while underrepresenting the kind of one-song flameouts that form the backbone of any pop movement. And aside from some smart programming–like pairing Suicide and Devo, or coming up with a trash-pop one-two-three of The Runaways, The New York Dolls, and Eddie & The Hot Rods–Rhino's across-the-map, non-chronological approach lacks flow or meaning, which obscures the historical importance of these fuzzy, primal shots from the teenage id. (As scene snapshots go, the L.A. hardcore on the Repo Man soundtrack and the Gotham post-punk of New York Noise are far more useful, though less comprehensive.) On the other hand, it's hard to quibble with a collection that salvages fringe-rock classics like Mink DeVille's "Let Me Dream If I Want To," Tom Robinson's "2-5-6-8 Motorway," and Rich Kids' "Ghosts Of Princes In Towers." No Thanks! also features fair-minded track-by-track liner notes by Trouser Press stalwarts Ira Robbins and Dave Schulps, who break down the character of the three major punk scenes. Basically, in New York, punk was an art; on the West Coast, it was a shrill cry for help; and in the U.K., it was both a culture and a battlefield, populated by scrappy kids, talentless self-promoters, and slumming virtuosos alike. Robbins and Schulps help straighten out Rhino's knotty timeline, clarifying how long it took for some of these bands to go from their first gigs to their first recording sessions, and how the scene shifted to new wave, techno-pop, post-punk, and "new romantic" almost as soon as some artists got their initial bratty impulses down on tape. As for oft-referenced, rarely heard acts like The Pop Group and The Slits (whose style fits with the current likes of !!! and The Fiery Furnaces), their presence on No Thanks! clarifies some hazy chapters of pop history, making the whole bloated set worth digging through.