Richard Hell & the Voidoids | Destiny Street Complete | (Omnivore)
4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
“I’ve been working on this release for forty years. Long road,” says Richard Hell about the new and likely final issue of his second album. That’s an understatement.
The Destiny Street that appeared in 1982 on the tiny Red Star Records label hardly set the charts on fire. Surely, the five years it took to cobble it together after Hell and his Voidoids band’s critically acclaimed 1977 Blank Generation debut didn’t help generate interest in the follow-up. And the indie imprint lacked the financial or high profile backing that made the previous Sire recording such a landmark moment in the early, scrappy New York City punk scene. Additionally, Hell was not surprisingly dissatisfied with the initial mix which he calls “a morass of trebly multi-guitar blare” in this reissue’s notes.
But the road to what is surely the last word on this album was as convoluted as Hell’s own career; one that found him joining then leaving bands such as Television and The Heartbreakers (not Tom Petty’s outfit), and finally exiting music entirely after contributing to the ad hoc NYC supergroup Dim Stars in 1992. Much of the problem was a result of Hell. He admits he didn’t play live unless he needed money (generally to fuel a drug habit), and didn’t enjoy it when he did. This was not exactly a formula for success, although the music he created when he was active remains essential as some of the most literate and edgy that emerged from the gritty CBGB incubator.
Hell understands that no one was clamoring for a definitive version of Destiny Street’s 10 brief selections (the original clocked in at just over 35 minutes), let alone the four of them (remastered, repaired, remixed and demos) that fill two overstuffed CDs in this package. But after locating most of the original 24-track masters in 2019, the tracks were finally remixed the way he wanted four decades ago.
Joining those is a freshly remastered version of the 1981 sessions, a “repaired” mix that added new guitar parts from top tier players such as Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Voidoid founding member Ivan Julian (none contributed to the primary sessions) over the rhythm section initially released in 2009, and a batch of early demos.
Whether you need all of this is debatable, but Hell’s Destiny Street exhibits the same acidic playing, incisive word play (he has since authored books of poetry) and brutally honest vocals that made Blank Generation such a crucial, crackling example of NYC’s now legendary punk explosion.
Kicking off with the jittery “The Kid With the Replaceable Head,” something Hell calls an attempt to write a hit single, entries such as the riff oriented “Downtown at Dawn,” the brittle love song “Staring in Her Eyes” and the Stooges styled rocking “Ignore that Door,” unspool with a wild, energized, crackling intensity that defined the sound emerging out of lower Manhattan at the time. Lead guitarist, the late Robert Quine (who also worked with Lou Reed), is an inspired, hot-wired soloist whose every note seems to catch fire. Even covers from Bob Dylan (“Going Going Gone”), Them (“I Can Only Give You Everything”) and The Kinks (an almost unhinged and crazed “I Gotta Move”) fit into the overall dark, occasionally grating vibe. Everything seems to be veering off the tracks… until it’s not.
Since Destiny Street has been in and out of print for a while, most will experience these songs for the first time. As with the finest albums, it remains as fresh and gripping as when it was first unleashed. Even, perhaps especially, in its remixed, remastered form, the recordings feel raw, vital and alive. They will hopefully help Hell receive some much overdue recognition for his critical role in the vibrant New York City late 70s punk scene.