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Boxed up but not boxed in

Two recent box sets show punk(s) not dead, only dreaming

Before any self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstars were publicly crucified anti-stars, before Hot Topic homogenized personal/ political statement as everyday wear, and before MTV recast "punk" as a joke, not a jolt, there were those who earned international revile without the need of a PR machine, but just three chords, some safety pins and the truth. Punks they were called, after a time, and punks they were, after a fashion. Now, Rhino Records, in the company's own traditional fashion, has released __No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion, a thoroughly packaged "primer" to the movement that revitalized rock.

Of course, punk was fundamentally against bloat, so to many, a four-CD, 100-song declaration of punk's identity may seem the ultimate antithesis of everything it stood for. But what was punk, if not a flashpoint (of contention)? Everyone emotionally wrapped up in the axioms and/or idioms of punk will surely have an opinion on the track listing (and its omissions). But overall — the glaring absence of the Sex Pistols aside — No Thanks! will offer something to fans who consider rebellion to be charging box sets on Dad's credit card, and to true collectors looking to spare their crackling singles collections.

Picking up after Rhino's discontinued DIY series, No Thanks! spans the years — as far back as 1972, but concentrating on 1976-1979 — as well as spanning the coasts — East, West and transatlantic. Save for the aforementioned Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd., if you can think of an oft-cited punk band, chances are they are among the 80-plus artists found here: the Ramones, the Clash, Buzzcocks, Germs, the Damned, Generation X, Stiff Little Fingers, Dead Boys, the Slits, Black Flag, X, the Dead Kennedys and Fear, to name a few.

There are also a handful of proto-punks — Television, Patti Smith, the Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, Pere Ubu and Stooges — and post-punks — the Cure, Joy Division, Wire and Devo. The names are quite obviously too numerous, but the modes are abrasive and infectious, primal and hormonal, equal parts regression and progression. Bands from the Ramones to Magazine to the Fall — the latter represented by the Manchester group's debut EP B-side "Bingo Masters Breakout" — harnessed a tension that exhibited repetition that did not imply rote.

No Thanks! closes with one tentative step into the '80s: The last song on disc four is Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again." It reinforces the fact that punk(s) had issues, and several of the groups — and the movement as a whole — suffered an inevitable nervous breakdown under the weight of their own intentions. Hypocrisies aside, in terms of packaging "rebellion," there's little about No Thanks! to fight against.

Sharing the late '70s with punk rock, and featured on No Thanks! with the track "Boys Don't Cry," the Cure, along with Joy Division, put the manic in manic depression. The Cure's compelling maneuvers between gloom and giddiness over the course of its 30-year history have been captured by Rhino Records on the four-CD __Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, 1978-2001.

Separating 70 songs into the eras 1978-1987, 1987-1992, 1992-1996 and 1996-2001, Join the Dots reveals the Cure to not always be dire and dreary. Rather, the music of frontman Robert Smith and his chosen company is best described as kaleidoscopic. The music cycles colorfully across the entire spectrum, but is always reflective of fractures. The Cure as a whole has always been a touch fractured, and these four discs represent that: from its beginnings as a nervy three-piece, its tenure as more sequencer-based and secluded, and its expansion into fully fleshed stadium-force palatial pop. The band may have worn sloppy makeup and frumpy clothes, but it made meticulously crafted pained dirges and pop surges.

Join the Dots shows that the Cure's "supplemental" material, whether presenting a life breezy or belabored, is often not a collection of toss-offs, but rave-ups for fans. It offers copious B-sides, Flexidisk versions, remixes, soundtrack contributions, radio sampler/record label comp cuts and vinyl-only tracks, along with Rhino's traditionally comprehensive track-by-track anecdotes. Not all is as luxurious as crushed velvet, of course, with questionable covers and market-minded compositions in the years post-Disintegration, but for the most part, Join the Dots comes across a conjoined vision. Unreleased tracks, however, do not appear here. That privilege is reserved for the upcoming two-disc remasters of the group's catalog.

The Cure has always been equally famous for its singles as well as its B-sides. The cassette version of the Cure's 1986 singles collection, Staring at the Sea, came coupled with the B-side collection Standing on the Beach. Join the Dots is much more exhaustive. One sadly missing track, however, is "Carnage Visor," the 20-minute instrumental found on the cassette release of Faith. That omission aside, Join the Dots does an excellent job tracing the Cure's alternative history and showing that the group made some grade-A B-sides.

-- Tony Ware__
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