Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.
Blank Generation: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Richard Hell and the Voidoids
24 Nov 2017
If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.
Whilst trying to manage the New York Dolls, Malcolm McLaren spotted Hell in his customized, thrift store rags and his hair cropped à la Rimbaud, stole his look and delivered it wholesale to the Sex Pistols on his return to London. If he'd have been enamored by another New York band, who knows – maybe the Pistols would have the clean-cut, preppy look of Talking Heads. Johnny Rotten in a buttoned-up polo shirt? I can't quite see it.
When he wasn't an accidental Gap model, Hell was enjoying a chequered musical career. As a founder member of Television, he found himself at the epicenter of New York punk, only to be sidelined from that band when Tom Verlaine decided that Hell hadn't got the chops for the "Charlie Parker meets the Grateful Dead" stylings of the band's new direction. A brief and blurred tenure with the Heartbreakers followed, producing nothing but demos and a blueprint for another version of the band, but Hell hit his stride with his next venture – the Voidoids. It's that band's first album that is commemorated with this rather fine, 40th-anniversary edition from Rhino. It's about time, too.
Hell was aware of his shortcomings as a musician, and so he surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians to come out of punks first phase. Guitarists Ivan Julian and Robert Quine scorch their way through Blank Generation, firing shards of angular, aggressive and musical noise in all directions. Soon to be Ramone, Marc Bell holds down the rhythm and Hell adds his unsurprising but solid bass parts. His voice is something else - ragged and yearning, it resembles a pissed off Bob Dylan, with whom he shares a lyrical vision on occasion.
The crux of Blank Generation is its astonishing title track. Julian cranks out the harsh riff, the rhythm section tumbles in and Hell yelps out the ultimate punk lyric – "I was sayin' let me out of here before I was even born, it's such a gamble when you get a face", and if that wasn't enough, Quine simulates the sound of a nervous breakdown in the guitar solo. It's a breath-taking two minutes and 45 seconds. Incredibly, the album almost reaches that peak on a number of occasions. "Down at the Rock and Roll Club" and "Love Comes in Spurts" are taut rockers which must have annoyed the bejesus out of Tom Verlaine when they were part of Television's early repertoire. Ironically "The Plan" would have sat rather nicely on Marquee Moon, with its relaxed tempo and twin guitar interplay. Is Hell being playfully plagiaristic here? It doesn't matter. It's a great tune.
This expanded edition of the 1977 album features some high caliber rarities and demos and not the usual flotsam and jetsam that constitutes the typical "legacy edition" of an important album. The demo version of "Love Comes in Spurts" has a more manic edge than the pretty manic version that finally made the album and you get another two version of the title track – one demo and one live at CBGBs (where else?) The live version sounds as sludgy as hell (no pun intended), but it's excellent. You even get a 1977 Sire Records radio ad for the record. What fun it must have been to try and promote this album to the Hotel California generation.
Here's the bottom line. Some records you have to own because they're "important", right? We've all got those albums. They sit, neglected and unplayed. They're there for reference. Blank Generation could be one of those records. You've got it because of its "pivotal" or "seminal" or some other rock nerd buzzword. The great thing about this record is that it's truly superb that sounds as thrilling and vital as it did 40 goshdarned years ago. Buy it and play it. It'll make you want to get your hair cut à la Rimbaud, guaranteed.