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Worth The Wait : Richard Hell Finally Completes His Second Album

In the art world, there is usually a point where the painter, sculptor, poet, musician or craftsman has to step away from the piece and say: “it is done” before releasing it to the world.The success of said art is often influenced by the artist’s state of mind at a given time. Point is, many a work has been derailed by an artist who for one reason or another was not 100 percent engaged in the project at the time it was first created — be it family challenges, love interests, general health or, unfortunately, substance abuses.  

There are many stories which have gone into the stuff of legend such as Brian Wilson’s 1966 masterwork SMiLE which he aborted in 1967 only to finally be able to revisit it in the 21st century and finish it in 2004. The Beatles even walked away from one of their last recordings, Get Back, which had to be completed by an outside producer (Phil Spector, issued as the Let It Be album in 1970 after their swan song, Abbey Road). Years later, Paul McCartney got back to the album to remix it closer to his original vision in the form of Let It Be Naked).

So… stuff happens folks. 

And such is the case with iconic punk rock musician, singer and songwriter Richard Hell, a founding member of the legendary bands Television and The Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunder) as well as his own Richard Hell & The Voidoids

In the late 70s and early ‘80s, lets just say that Hell was going through a lot of life stuff (details which I’ll save for you to discover in the liner notes, so no spoilers here!), some of which got in the way of completing his second album to his satisfaction. Bottom line, he experienced both opportunities and disappointments and ultimately wasn’t thrilled with his eventual 1982 release of the follow up to his 1977 opus, Blank Generation.  

Indeed, when I first came across the CD of Destiny Street some years back I was a bit non-plussed for some reason. It was OK but something about it didn’t engage me, save for the opening track “The Kid With The Replaceable Head.”  It went into my collection and I nearly forgot about it.  

That is until I heard from the good folks at Omnivore Recordings and that they were issuing a new version of the album that had been completely redone by Mr. Hell.  My surprise and wonder expanded significantly when I received the two CD set and found it included not only the original album I owned as well as the new remixed version but also a version that came out in between from 2009!  

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the story is that at one point after Hell sorted out his life, in 2009 he found a cassette tape of the backing tracks, so he decided to bring in new musicians and record new parts on top of it. Then, years later, three of the four missing original 24-channel multi-track tapes were found so he embarked on journey to remix, remake and remodel. He knew he had a good album in there somewhere and was compelled to keep trying! 

Thus the new Destiny Street Complete, and its companion vinyl LP Destiny Street Remixed — still credited to Richard Hell & The Voidoids — are important releases for fans of the artist as well as punk rock and new wave music in general. Indeed, this album has grown on me a lot, especially some of the deeper album tracks like  “Time” and “Lowest Common Denominator.” The title track is an angular funk groove with spoken word that fits the 1982 time frame perfectly (think New Order, Gang of Four, Joy Division, etc.) replete with a perhaps accidental reference to Nektar’s 1973 prog rock epic, Remember The Future.  

The differences between the versions of the album on Destiny Street Complete are compelling, with additional contributions from guitarists Ivan Julian, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot adding new solos and textures beyond Robert Quine’s work (RIP).  The final album assemblage is a compilation of new remixes plus the best of the 2009 version filling in the blanks of the still-missing second reel. 

For good measure, we get some single mixes and a previously unreleased bonus track — “Don’t Die” — which was found on one of the tapes.  There is also a loving acoustic version of “Time” recorded by Hell and Ivan Julian for a Robert Quine memorial.

And while the CD set of Destiny Street Complete is essential, the joyous surprise was putting on the vinyl LP of Destiny Street Remixed and hearing this music jump out of the speakers…. as it should!  The basic tracks were mostly 24-track (likely) analog. Hell co-produced the final album with Nick Zinner (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and engineer Erin Tonkon (Bowie’s Black Star) at legendary Bowie/T-Rex producer Tony Visconti’s studio. 

There is a whole lot of great guitar and amplifier tone coming through on this mix.  Amazingly, some of the tracks like “Downtown at Dawn” are based on that reference cassette of the original backing tracks. Seriously, I can’t believe some of the backing tracks are from a cassette but that is probably why they decided to use them as they sound great! And it all sounds completely simpatico track to track.  My favorite on the album, “Time,” sounds terrific with gorgeous chiming guitar soloing by Robert Quine. 

Destiny Street Remixed is a wondrous symphony of twang, clang, feedback and this-knob-goes-to-11 snarl. 

It was a long time coming, but well worth the wait. You should listen.

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