Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Richard Hell [extended]

  • Blank Generation [Sire, 1977] A-
  • Destiny Street [Red Star, 1982] A-
  • R.I.P. [ROIR, 1985] B+
  • Destiny Street Repaired [, 2009] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation [Sire, 1977]
Like all the best CBGB bands, the Voidoids make unique music from a reputedly immutable formula, with jagged, shifting rhythms accentuated by Hell's indifference to vocal amenities like key and timbre. I'm no great devotee of this approach, which harks back to Captain Beefheart. So when I say that Hell's songs get through to me, that's a compliment: I intend to save this record for those very special occasions when I feel like turning into a nervous wreck. A-

Destiny Street [Red Star, 1982]
With Material's Fred Maher replacing Voidoid-turned-Ramone Marky Bell and engineer-bandleader Naux augmenting Robert Quine on guitar, this is no lowest-common-denominator job: it's fuller and jazzier than Blank Generation without any loss of concision. Or toon appeal--the dissonantly dissident fun includes the antiscene "Lowest Common Denominator" and the antiscag "Ignore That Door." These days the poète maudit manqué who once equated private sex with Faustian sin is looking for love that doesn't come in spurts. The key is "Staring in Her Eyes," where he explicitly surrenders his narcissistic nihilism to achieve the bliss described in the title. The song is affecting, its lyricism intensified as usual by the yearning inexactitude with which Hell pursues its melody, and I sympathize in principle with his new head. I'm just not convinced he has his heart in it yet. A-

R.I.P. [ROIR, 1985]
Supposedly the farewell of annotator Lester Meyers to his alter ego Hell, this fourteen-song all-previously-unreleased compilation begins with Johnny Thunders in New York, ends with Ziggy Modeliste in New Orleans, and preserves seven new songs and eight new Robert Quine cuts. What could be bad? you ask perspicaciously, and yet I'm a little disappointed. Only Fats Domino's "I Live My Life" and a painful lament for a masochist groupie called "Hurt Me" would improve Blank Generation or even Destiny Street, and the alternate versions alter nothing. Recommended to Walkpeople. B+

Destiny Street Repaired [, 2009]
Preserving the backing tracks from the excellent 1982 album, which Hell disdains for murky reasons that may have to do with who owns it, while adding new guitar solos and new lead vocals, this offended me by expunging from the public record a major chunk of the late, nonpareil, under-recorded Robert Quine's tiny cache of rock solos. But Hell the 59-year-old arts professional renders the yelping anxiety of Hell the 31-year-old punk junkie with such sympathy it's hard to know who's who sometimes, and Marc Ribot, who doesn't record enough rock solos himself, is the nearest parallel to Quine extant. The original album, selling online as I write for $38 used and $153 new in CD form, sounds better than ever. I'm glad to own it and probably wouldn't buy both. But this is its own reward. A-

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