Mossing About: RICHARD HELL AND THE VOIDOIDS – Blank Generation (1977)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

Robert Quine was a genius! That’s not to do any disservice to Richard himself, but I needed a catchy hook to open this review with and Quine really was a genius. You can hear an earlier version of “Love Comes in Spurts” done with The Heartbreakers and while Johnny Thunders was himself a very talented guitar player it really is dwarfed by the version on this album. The song finds its true form here and it’s almost entirely due to Robert’s guitar playing, which is really frenetic and hectic, almost like a fire engine or something.

I guess it helps to be influenced by the best jazz fusion while not being fucking boring. Like the majority of jazz fusion.

The guitar playing matches Richard himself well, who is quite an idiosyncratic singer. Like the guitar riff for “Love Comes in Spurts”, he’s pretty manic himself, yelping and shouting and generally sounding like he’s enjoying being electrocuted a little too much. Ivan Julian is a really good rhythm guitarist as well, providing the perfect accompaniment to the Wild Quine and getting some pretty good riffs of his own. Marc Bell’s drumming is well on point, being pretty swinging and fun.

Overall the album definitely occupies the artier end of punk rock. This is apparent immediately from Richard’s lyrics, see, he has poetic aspirations. Which is fine, he’s a pretty good poet! Nihilist, but with a good sense of humour, and if you can’t relate to the sentiments of “Who Says? (It’s Good To Be Alive)” then you’re simply not human. And like I said earlier, Robert Quine is obviously influenced by jazz fusion, especially as done by John McLaughlin on records such as On the Corner and Bitches Brew. Hell (get it?), according to an essay by Lester Bangs on The Clash when The Voidoids supported Joe and the gang Quine was flat out stealing riffs from Miles Davis’ fusion period. Not that I’m judging, there was a time when I wanted to record an avant-folk album with riffs pillaged entirely from jazz records. Sometimes blatant theft is the most creative thing you can do. Anyway, the sound of the album in general is pretty raucous, but with a sophisticated edge, this is definitely musically above The Ramones or The Sex Pistols. I guess its influenced more by the Velvets than The Stooges.

I’m not sure I’ve adequately described the album so maybe I can make my point better by describing individual songs. Well, there’s the aforementioned opener “Love Comes In Spurts”, which is as you’ve no doubt noticed a witty bit of sexual innuendo. It’s about how being born sucks. It’s one of the harder songs on the album, but it’s pretty fun as well, with a catchy as hell riff and a really inspired performance, there’s conviction! For better or for (probably) worse Hell really believes what he’s singing and the performance of the band would seem to indicate they agree. “New Pleasure” is another highlight, opening with an agitated little riff and quickly settling for a more seedy vibe, which goes with the song title and lyrics, though they still feature plenty of nihilism, such as: “you can’t get dressed, you’re too numb”. “Who Says?” Is my personal favourite on the album, it has a kind of boastfulness and snideness to it, a punky two minute blast with some jagged, catchy guitar interplay and a singalong chorus. Blank Generation is the classic on the album, describing Hell’s birth and subsequent shitty life, with a chorus that Hell claimed tried to be existentialist but still seems pretty defeatist, though it’s definitely one of the more upbeat songs on the album. “The Plan” is the closest the album has to a catchy pop hit. It’s about parental incest. “Another World” deserves mention just for being slow tempo’d, eight minutes long and having guitar solos! This, along with the CCR cover shows that punk has never been as far removed from other forms of rock music than John Lydon would like to think.

It’s interesting, I’d always thought I’d preferred Marquee Moon to this, yet when I started making a list of my favourite albums this ranked higher. It’s probably the lyrics, while the band sound that they’re having a bit too much fun to be fully nihilist, if you hate yourself you’ll probably love this album.
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Author: tomymostalas

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