PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Richard Hell: Time

Devon Powers

Richard Hell

Time

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
UK Release Date: 2002-03-18
Amazon
iTunes

Richard Hell can walk down the street in New York City's East Village without being recognized. He rides the subway, eats at understated restaurants populated by regular folks, reads his poetry (these days he's mainly a writer) to modest crowds at even more modest venues. His name is hardly as well-known as Sid Vicious or Joey Ramone. Even to those with more than a cursory knowledge of punk rock might have no idea who he is or what he's done.

But, without question, Hell was one of the most important figures in New York punk of the late 1970s. After brief stints in Television and The Heartbreakers, he formed The Voidoids and recorded 1977's Blank Generation, an album that encapsulates the thrill, style, and ethics of that era as definitively as any other recording of the time. Though he went on to record very little after that landmark LP, in those heydays, he was as critical to the movement as Tom Verlaine, the Ramones, or Patti Smith. Time, then, is an incredibly important compilation for anyone who claims any interest, past, present, or future, in punk music.

Composed of rarities, live tracks, and previously unreleased material, Time opens with a bright version of "Love Comes in Spurts", also the first track of Blank Generation but here recorded with his 1975 group, The Heartbreakers. Opening with an almost cutesy drum solo, Hell comes in wailing in his signature rockstar warble, ejaculating lyrics as he's backed by the fireworks of rocketing guitar. The song showcases Hell's flair for ballsy, baldy emotional lyrics -- an attitude that he would keep in all of his writing throughout his career. "Love comes in spurts / Sometimes it hurts!" Hell cries, agonized, without a hint of irony or regret. He's as driven and serious on "Can't Keep My Eyes on You", another frantic, punked-out bastardization of a love song. Its guitars screwed up and sentiments inverted ("I'd like . . . to tear you apart"), Hell is capable of paying aural homage to the terrifying emotions that often go along with attraction. In fact, with the exception of perhaps Elvis Costello, no other artists of the time better delivered the raging veracity of the punk love ballad -- heartsickness at its most erudite and adrenalized, impaled on guitars, aching as much as burning. "Betrayal Takes Two", recorded with the Voidoids, is a telling example; on Time it diverges from the version on Blank Generation to exude more guilt and confusion. "Betrayal takes two/ I did it to you / I'll do it again / If I have to," Hell spews, over tame guitar and bass that flare up only when Hell is not singing.

Beyond these "standards" (relatively speaking -- Hell's work has never received the attention it deserves) are lesser-known tracks included on his second release with the Voidoids, the 1982 Destiny Street. (Note: the renditions on Time are earlier recordings than what eventually ended up on Destiny Street.) Though his later album had neither the distribution nor accolades of Blank Generation, it includes the jewel "Time", a song that shows off both Hell's keen observation and, in the end, sentimentality. In a musical movement categorized by its nihilism and destruction, "Time" begins by talking bleakly of the ruthlessness of time, but ends very much at a place of acceptance. (In the album insert, Hell speaks at length about "Time", remarking that the song ends on a "Zennish" note.)

The compilation also includes some remarkable covers, including Bob Dylan's "Going Going Gone", Fats Domino's "I Live My Life", and a live version of Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog". The Stooges track comes at the heart of Disc II, a collection of live recordings from the Music Machine in London and CBGBs. Though much of the quality is poor (the Music Machine show is transferred from cassette tape), its power is so genuine and real that it hardly matters. From the devastating version of "Blank Generation" to the overwhelming "You Gotta Lose" (with vocals and guitar by Elvis Costello), Disc II makes you feel like you're the dedicated fan who snuck in a mini recorder, hoping to capture the energy in order to relive it again and again.

Like the infamous club CBGBs which centered that scene, Richard Hell has become an indelible, though at this point perhaps taken for granted part of the landscape of New York City. And like the late '70s punk movement he helped create, his influence remains audible and strong; the postpunk movement that's currently ransacking the indie scene owes much of its life and vigor to him. Time is a welcome addition to Hell's all-too small body of musical work, and a tribute to a time when music was infuriating and invigorating, infused with style, fury, passion, and guts.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.