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Richard Hell
(Matador Records)

Born Richard Meyers about 50 years ago in Kentucky, Richard Hell is one of those people who seems to have seen and done it all in a short period of time and come out the other side intact. In the 70s, he co-founded, wrote songs for, sang in, and played bass for a number of influential New York bands, as well as hanging out with poets and other great musicians of the time. In the late 70s, his debut album Blank Generation with the Voidoids was heralded as one of the landmark albums of the time, and even though he didn't keep such a prolific pace in the 80s, rock critic Lester Bangs said, "Hell's every move and word reveal a naked, impassioned intelligence in the throes of the only true rock and roll convulsion."

Now, 25 years after the aforementioned album was released, Hell is still writing. In the mid 90s, he released a book called Go Now, and he currently writes and updates his own website as well. Time, a 2CD retrospective of rare and unreleased material (the release coincides with the release of his newest book Hot And Cold) dating from 1975 to 1984, is almost 100 minutes of music that he helped create with various bands, and although it's very, very rough around the edges, gives a good insight into the influencial music he was creating at the time, as well as a peak into the life of the band at the time.

The first disc of the release is mainly just an expanded version of the obviously out-of-print R.I.P. release of 1984 that collects songs by Hell's first group the Heartbreakers, as well as different material by the Voidoids and a live session of less punk rock sounding work from a session in New Orleans with an expanded band of musicians. It's the second disc that provides the most interesting document, though. The first 12 tracks (which comprise the majority of the disc) are from a blistering live show that the Voidoids performed at the Music Machine in London in 1977, and it's easy to hear that the group would have been a completely different animal live when comparing the songs to their recorded versions. In sort of a strange ending to the show, Johnny Rotten hops up on the stage and yells at the crowd to coerce the band into performing an encore (which they oblige with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Ventilator Blues." The recording of the show is pretty grimey at best, but adds yet another rough edge to things, which actually works. The last four tracks on the disc are from a live recording done at CBGB's in 1978, and once again the group has an interesting stage guest as Elvis Costello sings and plays guitar on a couple of the tracks. The recording quality is much better on these four tracks, and although the group doesn't quite attack with the same ferociousness they do on the first tracks, they still rock with a capital R.

As a whole, the music on the 2CDs is interesting, although of mixed quality. The reflections that Hell writes in the liner notes are great as well. Listening to the music, it's easy to hear a brash, arrogant singer bellowing out songs about the quintessential sex, drugs, and rock and roll. His voice as a writer now is much more introspective, who doesn't seem bitter about not receiving the same amount of notariaty of other bands of the period (even when the Ramones recorded a song he wrote two-thirds of and didn't give him credit). Instead, he seems to have settled into a comfortable pace of writing (both in print and on the web) and simply observation. Because of that, he can probably still walk down the streets of New York without getting mobbed (although I imagine some people in the know still recognize him), while groups like the Strokes are grabbing headlines for a music style created before they were born. An interesting document of a time, as the title states.

Rating: 7.5