By Loy Frankbonner and Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat February 27, 1996
Richard Hell and the Voidoids
There's little I can say about Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation that would do it justice. It's one of the few records in your collection that'll withstand a hundreth listen and demand more. It transcends its status as an artifact of the la te '70s New York punk scene and stands on its own as a jaded, smart, and passionate rock album.
Being a poet wasn't a handicap/hang-up for Mr. Hell the way it's been for other, less noble artistes like Patti Smith, who seemingly opted to make a career out of being "deep" instead of playing rock 'n' roll. Voidoids' tunes from this period like "I'm Your Man," "Who Says" and "Blank Generation" are great rock 'n' roll above all, but come across as unique and jagged and, I suppose, vaguely "arty" 'cause they were played by inventive and discretely choppy musicians: the rhythm section of Hell (bass) and Marc Bell (drums) was tight and frequently sneaked in surprising breaks and changes in meter, but never lost sight of a solid 4/4 beat; top notch guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian played a combination of killer rock licks and angular, syncopated leads; and Hell's excellent lyrics are delivered in an authoritative whine (!) that sounds like an animated, impassioned Tom Verlaine. They read nicely and don't reek of pretension. You might say this incarnation of the band was what Television might've sounded like if their aim had been to write hummable tunes in verse-chorus-verse form instead of stoic guitar masterpieces.
If Blank Generation already sits on the top shelf in your collection, among the 10 or so absolutely indispensible records from this time and place, you'll be overjoyed to hear the three alternate versions on this record. I'm always weary of buying seven-inchers (they're half the price of a new LP for just a couple of songs - what the hell?) unless I'm sure I'll get a good amount of use out of them, but this one definitely qualifies. Apparently, this was the very first Voidoids single, and was originally released in '76. Can't tell yet whether I like these perfomances of "Blank Generation" and "Another World" better than the released versions, but it's nice to hear those songs in somewhat different form; the guitar parts and the singing are more assertiveand inspired but remain largely intact save for different solos. "You Gotta Lose" is a tune of equal caliber that was released under a different title on another archival Overground EP. More goodness. Well worth four bucks.
Fidelity-wise, these recordings are head and shoulders above the remastered Blank Generation CD. I tend to like recordings that sound just a little unpolished and rough around the edges, and the sound quality on these takes is in the same neighborhood as the Original Modern Lovers release, or Television's first single (lotsa treble, a clear mix with everything nicely audible and real, vocals and guitar way up front). The sleeve offers a black and white photo of a shirtless Hell bordered by razor blades that spell out his name, but no recording info to speak of, so my best guess is that these takes were recorded live in the studio.
Basically, any of the Voidoids related records are worth your time, including Razor & Tie's recent reissue of Destiny Street and ROIR's archival compilations. Also, Overground is the label that unearthed that great Neon Boys/Richard Hell split EP, so hopefully there's more stuff like this to come. If you're still suspicious, this single should make a great introduction to the band, 'cause this is about as good as they get. - L.F.
Congratulations I'm Sorry
It has been more than three and a half years since the Gin Blossoms released its first major recording, New Miserable Experience. But the band was relatively unknown outside Tempe then, and the members hoped to sell at least a few copies of the album, enjoy their 15 minutes of fame and go on from there.
Instead, the opposite happened. The first release off that album, "Hey Jealousy," after saturated play on Valley radio stations, made its way to stations in the West, and then nationwide. The band reshot a video for the song and sent the new version to MTV, which, as it often does, showed it practically every hour, virtually guaranteeing the band would sell quite a bit more than a few copies. And those 15 minutes? Well, it's going on about 43 months.
However, the man responsible for that first hit, Doug Hopkins, committed suicide last year. The writer or co-writer of six songs on the first album, including "Found Out About You," the band's second hit, Hopkins was kicked out of the band after New Miserable was recorded but before its release.
With its second album, Congratulations I'm Sorry, released last week, the Gin Blossoms have defied the expectations that with Hopkins' death went the band's only true talent. In fact, each of the five members is credited
with helping write at least four songs, and in the case of "Follow You Down," the first release off the album, all five members are co-writers. Much like "Hey Jealousy," "Follow You Down" is upbeat, its lyrics smooth, its sound clear. Even more, it's a fair portrayal of what the rest of the album holds. While the band did try some different takes on songs, it stayed within its boundaries, avoiding a trap many groups often fall into. On "Highwire," for instance, lead singer Robin Wilson takes his voice to just that (if only for 2 minutes, 24 seconds), yet the song still sounds natural.
Of course, there are also the duds. "My Car" contains little more than the title suggests and "I Can't Figure You Out" is more whining than singing. But overall, the album is consistent with the first, right down to the inclusion of "Memphis Time," comparable to "Cheatin'" on the previous record, both of which show the band's country influence.
If you're looking for a different Gin Blossoms sound, you won't find it on Congratulations I'm Sorry. What you will find, however, is a band that has nothing to apologize for. - M.P.