Richard Hell – “Spurts: The Richard Hell Story”
The first thing to say about “Spurts: The Richard Hell Story” is that Rhino are most definitely the most sorted kiddies on the block when it comes to retrospectives - & this release is no exception. The packaging is exemplary, the sleeve-notes definitive & the sounds awesome. Front/back = before/after. I like that.
Spanning Hell’s recorded output from 1973 to 2004, “Spurts” has been assembled to supersede all previous releases baring his name. Of the 21 cuts present – all have been painstakingly re-mastered, a third have been re-mixed - & a couple have even been re-edited – creating a stand alone collection that Hell considers to be ‘by far my best album’.
Uniquely, Hell envisages his entire back catalogue as a series of bootlegs – or possibly even demos – that he has now fleshed out satisfactorily during in the creation of “Spurts” - his strongest set yet. Hell has had to be patient in his pursuit of this goal, however, as the project has taken 3 years to realise. There have been rights to recover & go-aheads to secure. “Spurts” has been a labour of love.
Opening with 2 cuts from the Hell/Verlaine/Ficca proto-Television combo, The Neon Boys, many listeners will doubtless be hearing this legendary outfit for the very first time. “Love Comes In Spurts (Preliminary Version)” & “That’s All I Know (Right Now)” are tantalising glimpses of a group who never played out - but are still talked about by ‘those in the know’ in ‘revered tones’ some 30 odd years since they disbanded. What else do you need to know?
Next up, we’re treated to a version of “Chinese Rocks” performed by a Hell powered Heartbreakers. Rawer & substantially ‘more art’ than it’s subsequently recorded half-sibling, this is the sound of Punk Rock bubbling in a test-tube in an undisclosed NYC loft-laboratory sometime during the early 70s. History - basically.
“Blank Generation” opens a suite of 10 Voidoids cuts present on “Spurts”. Sonically improved beyond all compare, in terms of sound & impact, it reaches from the speakers & impolitely grabs you round the neck. Ambivalence never sounded so anthemic.
“Liars Beware” is still angry – still pissed after all these years:
“Look out chief,
Look out thief,
you'll lose your teeth.”
Scene-stealers, haberdashers & appropriators - take note.
“Walking On The Water” – a John Fogerty/Tom Fogerty cover - provides the vocal template Joe Strummer picked up when he realised he couldn’t just shout out the words any longer. Check the inflection at 00.15 - & tell me that isn’t the sound of the last four Clash LPs.
“Love Comes In Spurts” still shoots its wad in your face before you’ve had time to worry about your own orgasm. I wish Rhino would re-master the Sire “New Wave” compilation I first discovered it on all those year ago. I’d like that.
“Kid With The Replaceable Head” remains one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs in the history of rock’n’roll – period. Robert Quine’s explosive riffage & expressive soloing marks him down as godlike genius (the version present here is the baby, by the way). Three solos rolled into two. Guitar lines you can stroll along.
“Crack Of Dawn” - a bar room brawl of a song – is fighting fit - & not afraid to have a go. “Time” is simply one of Hell’s most perfectly formed vignettes (& a tune I have already earmarked for inclusion at my funeral). Quine shines again here – the guitar solos take an already impressive melody - & fire it into the stratosphere. Aural beauty personified.
“Ignore That Door” remains a colossus – Hell in purgatory. “Lowest Common Dominator” zips out of the blocks – riding the hi-hat all the way to the chorus - Quine on fire once again. “Downtown At Dawn” closes the archival Voidoids selections – adequate proof that dance/rock interfaces don’t always suck fundamentally.
Four selections from Dim Stars – the Hell/Moore/Shelly/Flemming experiment from 1992 - roll up next: “Dim Star Theme” is filthy without being grungy – “Baby Heuy (Do You Wanna Dance)” is old-skool Punk Rawk – “Monkey” is a Voidoid shaped pop gem – whilst “The Night Is Coming” is a lost psychedelic nugget.
Next up is the Voidoids “Oh” - recorded by Hell/Quine/Julian/Bell in 2001 for the “Wayne Kramer Presents Beyond Cyberpunk” compilation. A slow burner out of the blocks – but inevitably up there with “Kid With The Replaceable Head” & “Time” – the twin guitars literally serenade each other during the solos (Quine takes the middle - & Julian the outro).
“She’ll Be Coming (For Dennis Cooper)” is Hell’s take on hillbilly disco - recorded to accompany a Dennis Cooper story, “The Ash Gray Proclamation” – a banjo-ed to bedlam backwoods bastard. East meets West - somewhere South of North.
Dim Stars cover of Bolan’s “Rip Off” makes me think of the Dictators being eaten alive by The Stooges. I dance around the bunker to it like a lunatic as I type. A Television version of “Blank Generation” closes “Spurts” - bringing the listener full circle - back to where it almost all began. I’ll leave it to Hell himself to conclude:
Richard Hell - “The one thing I'd say is that I do find that compiling and constructing the thing has had the results I hoped for. Namely relief. Regrets have been removed. Frankly, I think it's a real good record. But even if it isn't good - I really don't give a fuck. I have no doubts or anxieties any more: I'm represented fairly by the thing, for whatever that's worth.
I conceived of it as my only album. I hinted at that with the "bonus tracks" - there can only be bonus tracks to something pre-existing. Yeah?
So, it's over with. It could quite possibly be a sick, mutated, half-assed thing. But I don't care. It's the best I could do under the circumstances (the circumstances being me).”
Jean Encoule – tMx 21 – 09/05