A priceless collection of demos and oddities compiled by James Stevenson, the mercurial guitarist with Chelsea's best-known lineup and keeper of the flame ever since. Still a teen when he joined the band in 1977 to power vocalist Gene October through the anthemic "Right to Work," Stevenson remained on board for the next three years, seeing Chelsea through their debut album and first American tours before departing for Generation X in 1979. Chelsea, of course, would continue without him, but demand for the classic lineup has never slackened no matter how brilliant the band's later efforts proved. Punk Rock Rarities will not dent the group's reputation in the slightest; indeed, at its best it even eclipses some of the group's "official" output, not only rounding up the demos for early singles and the Chelsea debut album, but also unearthing material that was lost along the way, shunted out of view by the three-year wait for that record: "Pretty Vacant," frequently discredited as a Sex Pistols cover, "Blind Date," and "Curfew" included. The familiarity of so many titles shouldn't put you off, and neither should the "demo" designations attached to a dozen of the tracks. Whether recording in earnest or simply slapping something down for future reference, Chelsea played with a vitality and commitment that never wavered. Add an excellent booklet stuffed with period press cuttings and a full Chelsea discography and Punk Rock Rarities rises so far above its odds-and-sods nature that it stands as a new album in its own right -- the one, perhaps, that should have been released in 1977. How history would have changed if that had happened -- and how it's being rewritten now that it's finally here.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson