DESTINY STREET REPAIRED - Richard Hell & The Voidoids (Insound)
1) It’s a do-over.
2) Never say never again.
3) If Robert Quine was here, he’d be turning in his grave.

The first is what we used to say back in the neighborhood after a botched play when we were playing street ball. The second is in response to Hell’s claim that he could “walk away and not look back” at his musical past after compiling 2005’s “Spurts: The Richard Hell Story”. The third is my take on the late proto-punk guitar genius’ probable response if he could hear this remix-with-re-recorded-voxx-and-guitars of Hell’s 1982 terminal stab at the rock marketplace. I mean, if Bob was that pissed off when Lou Reed mixed him down on “Legendary Hearts”…

Revisionist history’s an interesting game. Think only of Iggy’s ’97 “Raw Power” remix, the “I want everything louder than everything else” aesthetic of which only made lots of folks nostalgic for Bowie’s original dagger-in-your-ear shrill ’73 mix. At least you can still cop vinyl reish versions of Raw Power in the original mix for not that much coin. When the rights to Destiny Street’s masters reverted to Hell in 2006, he promptly scuttled the album, hoping to render its “inappropriate arrangements” and drug-damaged vocals unobtainable (except for, um, those tracks he saw fit to include on Spurts).

Listening to these new versions back to back with the originals, I can’t help but question the rationale for this project. The out-of-control feel Hell’s original vocals gave some of these songs much of their impact – the scream that begins “Ignore That Door” being the most obvious example. The same could be said for Quine’s original leads, a few of which - the ones on “Kid With the Replaceable Head” and “Time,” f’rinstance - sound finely wrought to these feedback-scorched ears. What you’re hearing in these new versions is the sound of a mature man recalling the emotions that caused him to write these songs back when he was living them. More to the point, Mr. Meyers isn’t any better at hitting the notes at 60 than he was at 33; in fact, he’s developed a distressing tendency to sing sharp, which gives the edge to the originals when it comes to his contribution.

Turning to the guitars, Hell couldn’t have picked better accomplices, regardless of whether or not this trip was really necessary. Lower Manhattan mainstays Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, John Zorn) and Bill Frisell (a jazzbo with Zorn connections of his own) are both intelligent, interesting players who can go cerebral or noisy, depending on the context, while the added guitarissimo on “Ignore That Door” is by original Voidoid Ivan Julian (who’d jumped ship by the time the original “Destiny Stree”t was waxed). They play with inspiration and fire like the ace instrumentalists they are, and their fretwork fits the songs fine. But to say that it’s “better” would be to dishonor Quine’s memory, and it’d be untrue, besides. The axe-slinging attorney’s discography is small enough already without excising his work on “Destiny Street” from history.

On its own terms, “Destiny Street Repaired” is a highly listenable artifact. I dig me some Ribot and Frisell and am always happy to have more to listen to. But when I want to hear these songs, it’s the version with Quine - and the young Hell, no matter how drug-fucked he might have been - that I’ll be reaching for. Call me old fashioned. - Ken Shimamoto


 

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TIME - Richard Hell (Matador)
This double disc retrospective by one of NY punk's originals incorporates a fair whack of previously-released material, drawn as it is, in part, from ROIR's 1984 cassette only "R.I.P." release. Disc one is that album - which, until his reappearance in the Dim Stars, brought a close to Hell's musical career - re-mastered with a couple of extra tracks (a rough take of "Time" and the only studio version in existence of "Funhunt".)

"R.I.P." was a little patchy, but where else were you going to hear the original (three-piece) Heartbreakers demo-ing "Love Comes in Spurts" and "Chinese Rocks"? Appended here is the earliest version of "Can't Keep My Eyes on You" and it's also worthwhile.

In case you're not familiar with the original tape, the rest of the tracks are mostly mid-period Voidoids demos and some, punky R & B mid-80s material that Hell worked up with a new band in New Orleans. "Funhunt" is muddy but mighty. "Betrayal Takes Two" is a spikier take than the one that made it to vinyl.

Disc two is mostly from a 1977 Voidoids show at The Music Machine in Camden Town, England, and is breathtaking in its ferocity. Coming, as it did, at the end of a taxing UK tour supporting The Clash, it was the first gig the band actually headlined. What it lacks in length (nine songs) it makes up for in sheer, pissed-off brutality. A junk-sick Hell sings his heart out and the dual guitar weapon that was Robert Quine and Ivan Julian cranks out an unseemly noise. You even get Johnny Rotten launching onto the stage and demanding an encore. This show has been widely booted, but it's good to finally hear it in a slightly more pristine sonic form. The remaining four tracks are from a CBGB show and are a little less fiery but better fidelity. Elvis Costello weighs in on "You Gotta Lose".

The generous liner notes package (penned by Hell) are a nice adjunct, with the exception of the dissection of the lyrics of "Time" where his penchant for over-analysis runs amok. Most people I know either love or loathe Hell. His off-the-wall yelping can be abrasive (that was the point, right?) but the quirky songs - and angular guitar presence of supreme noisemaker Robert Quine - set off sparks for mine.

Hell had his dodgy moments (the appalling "The Plan" for one) and wavered dangerously close to pretension in parts, but if you like his stuff then this set will have a prominent place on your player. More's the pity that the only contemporary musical endeavour Hell has undertaken was the reformation of the classic Voidoids line-up for one song (the so-so "Oh" on Wayne Kramer's "Cyberpunk" compilation.) There's a distinct possibility Hell could have something interesting still left to say (especially coupled with Quine), if he could be bothered. (ED: Written when Quine was still alive.) Now where's my ROIR tape of "Funhunt"? - The Barman



 


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