Punk's umbrella is indeed a broad one, as this roughly chronological 38-track compilation shows. Class of 1977 stalwarts like Buzzcocks, the Damned, Generation X, Ruts, Sham 69, and the Vibrators dominate the initial proceedings, which gradually yield to the speeded-up second-wave Oi! and thrash punk likes of Disorder, the Exploited, and GBH. As the compilers acknowledge, there are some notable absences, particularly among the 1977-era crop. The Clash, the Jam, the Sex Pistols, and Siouxsie & the Banshees were all approached, but declined or couldn't participate. Perversely speaking, this isn't a total drawback, since omitting keynote tracks like the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" allows many lesser-known bands to strut their stuff, too. This factor permits the inclusion of tracks not readily heard elsewhere, such as Eater's and the Lurkers' breathless rave-ups; the punky reggae of Swell Maps; the Heartbreakers' chunky ode to heroin, "Chinese Rocks"; and the swirling but ominous "Justifiable Homicide," a one-off contribution from former Sex Pistols producer Dave Goodman. What the second-wave bands lacked in melody, they made up in lyrical and musical ferocity. They tackled themes that include nuclear attack ("Last Rockers"), brutal cops ("Police Story"), gang violence ("Someone's Gonna Die Tonight"), anarchy ("No Government"), and urban decay ("City Baby Attacked by Rats").
A smart, Sgt. Pepper-style parody cover and liner notes by British music writer Chris Salewicz provides additional entertaining jump-starts for the imagination. As the compilers note, punk isn't so much about specific bands, but the right to be different. This effort admirably illustrates that maxim.