Richard Hell

Time

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There's little arguing that Richard Hell was one of the most important figures in the early New York punk rock scene, and he left behind an impressive body of work that merged a distinctive and literate lyrical intelligence with the primal force of stripped-down rock & roll. However, by his own admission, the man lacked the ambition or inclination for a long-term career, and for the most part he pulled the plug on his life in music in the early '80s. But there's been enough lingering interest in Hell's music that he's periodically released collections of material from his archives, and this retrospective, Time, is essentially an upgraded and augmented version of his 1984 odds and ends compilation, R.I.P. In fact, disc one of Time contains R.I.P. in its entirety, with three additional tracks -- a unreleased demo of "Chinese Rocks" cut with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and two tracks from a 1979 session with the Voidoids, "Time" and "Funhunt." The material has been remastered, and the audio is certainly an improvement over the ROIR cassette version (and the European CD), though the Heartbreakers demos still sound like they were dubbed from wobbly fifth-generation cassettes and some of the demo material is a bit thin (though Robert Quine's and Ivan Julian's guitars sound noticeably stronger). The real attraction for longtime fans is the live material on disc two. There are 11 songs from an absolutely ferocious performance at London's Music Machine in 1977, which Hell (in his intelligent and witty liner notes) describes as "one of the most aggressive sets we ever played"; while the recording quality is only fair, it's a flamethrower of a show that puts the material on the fine Funhunt collection to shame. And the set closes out with four strong if less incendiary tunes from a 1978 gig at CBGB, with noted Hell fan Elvis Costello lending guitar and vocals to two songs. Richard Hell was one of the few performer from punk's first wave who was able to express nihilism and compassion at the same time and, while his two studio albums (Blank Generation and Destiny Street) are a better introduction to his pungent genius, Time is a fascinating postscript to a brief but highly memorable career.

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