Third Time is the Charm for Richard Hell (review)

Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Destiny Street Complete (Omnivore Recordings)

THREE different versions of this seminal punk album

Recording an album is quite often a painful process.  So, it’s no surprise that some artists are unhappy with the finished product.  Iggy Pop hated the Bowie mix of the Stooges’ Raw Power, while McCartney despised what Phil Spector did to his songs on Let it Be.  Both artists got a chance to remix their albums, in 1997 and 2003 respectively, but were they actually improvements, or just revisionist history?

You could argue that no artist has worked harder to “correct” an album than Richard Hell.  

The recording in question is his second and last record with the Voidoids, Destiny Street, originally released in 1982.  Hell took not one, but two stabs at improving these recordings over the years.  Destiny Street Complete is perhaps the final word on this punk rock classic, collecting three different versions of the album, plus demos, single mixes and leftover songs, along with liner notes, penned by Hell himself.

Honestly, listening to the original, 1982, mix of the record, it’s pretty good.  Sure, the twin lead guitars are buried in the mix and the entire album is a little brittle-sounding, but it’s no different sonically than say, Never Mind the Bollocks or the first Clash album.  Destiny Street sounds like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown (he was), and has an incredible immediacy to it.  Plus, the songs are as catchy as hell (sorry for the pun).

However, Hell was never happy with it. He described the original mix as a “morass of trebly, multi-guitar blare,” and wanted to take a crack at remixing it years ago. Unfortunately, the multi-track tapes couldn’t be located and were feared lost.

In 2009, Hell did the next best thing.  He unearthed a cassette copy of the album’s rhythm tracks and added new lead guitars and vocals, issuing this version as Destiny Street Repaired.  Was it interesting? You bet.  Was it an improvement?  Not really.  One issue is that longtime collaborator Robert Quine, who provided the unique, sinewy lead guitar on the original, had passed away.  Same goes for second guitarist, Naux.  Instead, Hell enlisted a trio of fine replacements in Marc Ribo, Bill Frisell and Ivan Julian.  These subtractions and additions add different flavors (and it’s fun to compare between the different versions).  

The larger issue was that Hell was a lot older when he recorded these new vocals.  However faithful he tried to be to the originals, there wasn’t the bleak desperation inherent in what he did previously.  

Fast forward ten years and, lo and behold, the multi-track tapes to Destiny Street (most of them anyway) were discovered in some storage space.  Hell finally could do what he wanted to do all along, which was remix the original recordings.

The end result?  This time, he got it right.  

The biggest difference is the guitars are louder and panned either to the left or the right, giving you the opportunity to really hear them, plus Hell’s vocals are up in the mix too.  The real benefactor of this new remix is the late Quine, one of the most inventive, yet underrated, guitarists of all time (it’s his unique fretwork that elevated Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend above standard power pop fare).  His feedback-laden, note bending, is a thing of sheer awe.

You want proof of what Hell was complaining about?  Compare the original, lifeless version of “Ignore the Door” with the new remix.  Holy shit!  This new mix is spine-chillingly good – with both Quine’s and Naux’s guitars spread out, interlocking with each other.  It’s like a sonic punch to the ears.

Another example of the upgrade is Hell’s take on the Kinks’ “I Gotta Move.”  On the new remix, you can hear how Quine dominates with loud notes while Naux adds flourishes underneath.

Destiny Street Complete comes with the original, 1982 mix, plus Destiny Street Repaired, and the new, Destiny Street Remixed.

As if having three versions of the same album weren’t enough…wait!  There’s more!  The A and B side of a single issued in 1978 that tone downs Hell’s ferocity (the production sounds like Nick Lowe). There are also demo versions of most of the songs – I really like this take of “Time,” it smoothes out some of the edges of the original and is downright poppy.  There’s also demos of songs that didn’t make the album – “Funhunt” has an urgency to it and a great solo.

Hell pens the liner notes himself, and he’s brutally honest: “Three plus versions of the same album.  It’s ridiculous, but I’m glad.  I take full responsibility for it.”  

Does the project border on indulgent?  Sure. But, the musicianship is incredible, the songs are memorable, and everything is played with youthful abandon.  Only an album this good is worthy of being dissected and reinterpreted like this.  Highly recommended for fans of punk —Tony Peters