Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Fill in the _______

Stronger album: Blank Generation
Weaker album: Destiny Street

Richard Hell invented punk rock fashion one night when he, your typical poverty-ridden struggling New York musician, ripped up his T-shirt and went out on the town anyway. Inventing the look of punk is his main claim to cultural signifigance; the former bass player for Television had a few decent enough ideas in the music department, but his backup band the Voidoids didn't leave much of a legacy when compared to their CBGB/Max's Kansas City contemporaries (the aforementioned Television, Pere Ubu, Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, you know the drill - mid-'70s Manhattan bands that were musically all over the map but tied together by [initial] lack of commercial success and geography). A ramshackle unit whose best sonic feature was Bob Quine's searingly atonal guitar, the Voidoids were intriguingly funkier and rootsier than the competition, but they didn't always put that to as good use as they could have; today, the guitar interplay sounds like Television without the lyricism. However, Hell could write a song, and his rock-poetry is much more stomachable than the highly, highly overrated Patti Smith (of the less said the better). Hell's yelps are weird and untrained, but not annoying, and he actually knows what a song structure is - you know, catchy choruses, hooks, even a few melodies every now and then. O'course if modern alienated types weren't supposed to be so, you know, modern and alienated, some of those melodies might be a bit catchier. As is, Richard Hell is a quite interesting footnote to modern rock'n'roll.

Blank Generation (1977) ***1/2

This album has its cult following (Lester Bangs gave this record five stars), but it's not for everyone; if you've heard the title track on punk oldies compilations and like it, then you'll like the rest. The "Blank" in Hell's "Generation" doesn't refer to nihilistic emptiness, as many have misunderstood (listen up, class, I referred to this in my paper on '80s Brat Pack novelists) but rather "Blank" as "fill in the ______". Hell's "rock poetry" concerns the vital rock'n'roll subjects of sexual betrayal and confusion ("Love Comes In Spurts," - think about that title for a second; get it? Ha-ha), getting drunk and ripping up your shirt at nightclubs ("Rock'n'Roll Club"), alienation (whole damn thing, "Another World," especially), sex as sin ("New Pleasure"), sneering psuedo-nihilism ("Who Says It's Good To Be Alive," - I said "psuedo" 'cause you're still alive and well, aren't you, Richie?), sexual betrayal and confusion again ("Betrayal Takes Two," all the rest of the love songs), Creedence ("Walk On Water," - what kind of band is so garage incompetent they can't even play Creedence right?), Sinatra ("All The Way"). My favorite song is "I'm Your Man," a B-side tacked onto the reissue, and not the Leonard Cohen song, though I'm sure he's a key influence.

Destiny Street (1982) ***

Five years later and Richard finally got off the drugs long enough to produce a second album. It still sounds like a New York art-damaged junkie trying to merge rock with "poetry", but as with the debut it's all much less pretentious than it sounds. In fact, it's all very, how do you say, rock'n'roll. Exhibit #a: the opening cut, "The Kid With The Replacable Head," sounds like the first Clash album on bubblegum. Exhibits #b, c, & d: "You Gotta Move" (Kinks cover, everybody does those, but a nice gesture), "Going Going Gone" (Dylan obscurity, even more everybodys do those, and it's more than a nice gesture - it's a really good song), "I Can Only Give You Everything," (Them cover, ho-hum, but then I've never been a big Van Morrison fan). "Time" is a nice ballad, and funky Borges-rock of the final cut is lyrically kind of amusing. Not essential, there are a few interesting songs here, and the song-by-song liner notes (by the artiste himself) are a riot.

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