Feb 18, 1998 at 12:00 am

This CD compilation of early singles, alternate takes and remixes (and one previously unreleased track) was originally released on cassette only, in '83, at which time it served as a post-punk reminder of at least one important point of origin for the pervasive anti-mainstream yowl of the late '70s. Now, checking in at millennium's end, post-everything and with the gulf certainly deepened, these late-'60s, early-'70s sides still retain their patina of intuitive urgency, i.e., they still don't sound like nostalgia.

Sampled are the rough-hewn early singles, where the group's debt to the raunchy wing of the Brit invasion (Stones, Animals, Them) is still apparent; the necessary sprawl of the first album; the straitjacketed but still subversive second album (where a previously dormant ironic streak becomes highlighted,) and the just-right metalpunkjazz concoctions of album 3. Man, these guys were good. The earliest sides buzz with an energy that the recording equipment of the time could barely contain ("Looking at You," "I Just Don't Know" &emdash; the latter serving as a bridge between the Who and proto-metal); the remixes, through a slight change in lighting and shift of camera angle, serve to emphasize the multitalents of guitarist-composer Fred Smith; and the later tracks suggest that art rock need not be just bloated diddling &emdash; though by that point no one was listening. Only some of the patchouli-scented lyrics mark this as a period piece. The three albums are still essential, but this is a great introduction.