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Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Destiny Street Repaired

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Artist: Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Album: Destiny Street Repaired

Label: Insound.com

Review date: Sep. 1, 2009

It’s a minor miracle that Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ Destiny Street ever got released, but it’s the sort of record that’s easy to love despite its flaws. The sound may be murky, the singer may sound like he’s about to die and can’t wait to get the business over, but the performances are a glorious mess and the songs are audacious, brilliant, and catchy as hell. I’ve had the album since it came out but haven’t had to play it in years; I’d already spun it so often that all I had to do was look at the cover to remember the whole thing.

It took Hell five years to get around to recording a follow-up to Blank Generation. The Voidoids had been defunct for over a year and the man was soul sick, junk sick, and ready to give up the rock game. But he had some songs, a label ready to give him some money, a palpable need for that cash, and guitarist Robert Quine’s phone number, so in 1982 they pulled together a band — Hell on bass, Quine and the one-named Naux on guitars, Fred Maher on drums — to make one more record. Things went as planned for a week or two, but after cutting the backing tracks Hell lost his nerve and refused to come into the studio for a week and a half. According to Quine, he and Naux spent that time overdubbing every idea they’d ever wanted to try, which depending on your perspective turned the music into either “high-pitched sludge” (per Hell in the liner notes to the Spurts career retrospective) or the aforementioned glorious mess. After Hell finally dragged his sorry ass into the studio to finish the record, it sat in bad business limbo for another year before Line Records finally put it out.

Ever since then he’s expressed his disappointment with the result, and in 2008 Hell geared up to put it right by re-recording the vocals and lead guitars over rough mixes of the rhythm tracks. The impulse to repair past work rarely leads to improvement, and has in some cases — Chris Stamey’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Alex Chilton’s Bach’s Bottom, the versions of Variations on a Theme and More Places Forever on David Thomas’s Monster box — resulted in outright defacement. Given that neither Naux nor Quine could participate, since they’re both dead, and that Hell hasn’t been able to put together a complete album of new material since Destiny Street’s release in 1983, this didn’t promise to be the exception to the rule. But in a way, Hell had written such intervention into the original script. The title tune is a recitation of a short story about a man stepping back 10 years in time and seducing his younger self. Perhaps he was already throwing a line to the older self who would come back to both console and fuck with the younger Hell?

Fundamentalists who can’t tolerate any departure from the original text should make sure they’ve refilled their blood pressure prescription before they check out Destiny Street Repaired; hopefully Insound and Hell won’t get too Stalinist and pick-axe the Trotskyites who will inevitably post the original CD online, since it deserves to be heard and Hell certainly has not recreated the original note for note. Marc Ribot’s leads on opener “The Kid With The Replacable Head” trace a different path than the original’s fabulous swathes of noise; a lusty female chorus replaces the ragged choir of Hells on “Lowest Common Denominator.” Ivan Julian’s contributions to “Ignore That Door” add a muscle-rock superstructure that ironically overshadows Hell’s singing in a way that the original version’s stun guitars never did. And Bill Frisell’s additions much more explicitly sweeten the implied bitterness of “Going Going Gone.” But his solo at the end of that song is also astonishingly great, economical and raw in ways that you’ll never hear on his own records.

Despite the fact that overall there are fewer guitar tracks, the guitars are actually louder on Repaired than they are on my Line LP, and any record that showcases Ribot, Julian and Frisell in a rocking mood is nothing to ignore. The weirdly striated frequency spectrum of the original mastering job, which seemed as thin as mountain air in the higher frequencies, has been replaced by something much more full and satisfyingly full-on. And as a singer, Hell Mk 2008 manages to hit more of the notes with more force than his more desperate and debilitated self a quarter century earlier without going for any misguided notion of perfection.

The difference is never more evident than on “Time,” Hell’s greatest song. On the LP, he sounds like a ghost who hasn’t been clued into his own demise stumbling through the maze of guitars; on the cleaner, sped-up new version he sounds energized and jubilant, laughing back at mortality with the special triumph that an older man feels when he has just bested a younger man at his own game.

By Bill Meyer

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