Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Blank Generation (Sire '77, '90) Rating: A-
Besides being a “funny” dresser (whose “look” of ripped jeans, spiked hair, and safety pins was allegedly appropriated by Malcolm McLaren for the Sex Pistols) who fancied himself a poet, the awesomely named Richard Hell (real name: Richard Meyers) led a kickass rock ‘n’ roll band in the late seventies. Having already served time in seminal New York City acts such as Television and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, Hell’s ragged collection of misfits were led by ace guitarist Robert Quine’s jagged, spazzy, jazzy guitar lines and drummer Marc Bell’s (later Marky Ramone of The Ramones) big beats. Generally speaking, Hell’s jumpy vocals aren’t especially pretty, but the catchy sing along chorus of “Love Comes In Spurts,” the short, melodic "New Pleasure," the thoughtful r&b-based ballad “Betrayal Takes Two” (which also has a great Quine guitar solo), the intense mid-tempo CCR cover (“Walking On The Water”), the melodic jangle pop of “The Plan,” the ‘50s-styled street corner doo-wop of “I’m Your Man,” and the gently crooned “All The Way” (a Frank Sinatra cover, before Sid Vicious) reveal a versatile combo too often short-thrifted as a by-the-numbers punk band (p.s. those last two songs are bonus tracks on the recommended CD reissue). Sure, Hell dressed the punk part and spewed his share of venom, most memorably on the classic title track (“I belong to the blank generation, but I can take it or leave it each time”), and there are definitely traces of The Clash and The Who in addition to the aforementioned '50s doo wop influence, but this is an original sounding, instrumentally interesting album, despite a few uninspired tracks along the way. Blank Generation contains mostly short, chaotic bursts led by Quine’s abrasive, angular guitar phrasings mixed in with second guitarist Ivan Julian’s more straightforward playing, plus Hell’s yelping hysterics which take some getting used to. Again, these songs are concise for the most part, but the band stretches out for 8+ minutes on “Another World,” an overly long and repetitive number that still wins me over due to some nice melodies and cool Quine guitar licks. Hell’s simplistic "oh baby oh" lyrics here belie his "poetic" bent, making me think that maybe he was just a punk after all. But who cares about silly labels anyway? Suffice it to say that Richard Hell led a damn good rock 'n' roll band, and despite its inconsistencies Blank Generation is a damn good rock 'n' roll album. Alas, musically speaking this was as good as it would get for Hell, as by most accounts his infrequent subsequent work has failed to match the overall quality of this minor classic, though its much-delayed follow up Destiny Street, (which was released in 1982) has its fair share of supporters as well. For his part, Quine lent his idiosyncratic playing to albums by Lou Reed, Lloyd Cole, and Matthew Sweet (among others) before sadly committing suicide in 2004.

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