Is that a bad thing? The new Children of Nuggets, like its two parent boxed sets, devotes four discs to celebrating the artist (this time, the 1960s-pop-loving artist of the 1980s rather than, as on the previous two Nuggets compilations, the 1960s pop artist) as auteur, and the whole of it constitutes something like an answered prayer. Just Say Sire, a three-disc encomium to Sire Records founder, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and industry gadabout Seymour Stein, makes a strong case for the importance of moguls. That you can shuffle the two boxed sets' discs pretty seamlessly (give or take Sire tracks by Ice-T and the Cult), however, has more to do with Rhino, the label behind both packages, than with Stein or the bands that make up Nuggets. The Warner Bros.-distributed reissue giant turns whomever it touches Nuggets nuggets the Pandoras and Vibrasonic, Sire thrillers the Smiths and Talking Heads (the subject of a third just-released Rhino package), Stein himself into Rhino artists, critical titans and record-bin footnotes gift-wrapped together in a history of pop music written by its winner: the catalog owner.
Just Say Sire looks tossed off on the outside, its art a hodgepodge and its sequence disjointed. But each disc includes short, logical runs (Erasure to Soft Cell to Yaz to Depeche Mode is one), and the notes inside are surprisingly formal (though still telling). The set exhumes a few perfect postcards (the Bluebells' "Young at Heart," for example) to go with the epistle, though, and it's hard to fault any collection that includes Modern English's "I Melt With You" (the only Modern English song anyone needs) and Radio Birdman's "Aloha Steve & Danno."
Listening to the rougher but no less appealing cuts on the more essential Nuggets, it's easy to wish that Stein (or some similarly catholic-eared guru) had widened his search beyond London and downtown New York City, the key (but not the only) locations represented on the Sire set. Then again, if distribution through Warner Bros. couldn't make the Replacements a household name in any home whose occupants had a steady income and preferred that their beer not come in cans something Paul Westerberg notes for the 1,000th time in the Sire box's notes what chance would, say, the organ-grinding, whammy-bar-in-the-graveyard Mummies have had? Beyond the music itself, Nuggets' message is that movements are best defined much later if they can be defined at all. The collection's 100 songs aren't so much evidence of a pop revival in the postpunk world as they are a vital cross-section of a well-stocked, Billboard-proof record store circa 1986. That's not a movement, but it turns out to be a great destination.
Movements require vision, after all, and shared vision is the antithesis of rock and roll or at least that's what most of these acts would tell you. There's not much outlaw spirit on these collections, despite the prominence of the obscure and the unlucky on Nuggets and the emphasis on Stein's personal mythos in Just Say Sire's notes. It would be interesting to hear how the bands themselves would program sets commemorating their eras (or their labels). Then again, boxes curated by Pat DiNizio, Peter Case, Feargal Sharkey or Jeff Tweedy (leaders of, respectively, Nuggets bands the Smithereens and the Plimsouls and Sire acts the Undertones and Wilco) might sound considerably different if each were in charge of a label instead of 100 songs and a glossy book.