Friday, August 21, 2009

1977: Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Blank Generation

go to for the full fantastic Year One list.

Richard Hell's timing was always just a little bit off. Throughout punk's 1970s heyday he found himself on the cusp of something monumental; several times he was long gone by the time these key moments actually occurred. Most famously, his days with Television ended in 1975 after he was either sacked from or quit the band over disagreements with Tom Verlaine. A short while later the band released the landmark Marquee Moon while Hell was attempting a new project after leaving the Heartbreakers in 1976, a doomed collaboration with former New York Dolls Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders from which Hell eventually jumped ship.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that project, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, never managed to emerge from the long shadow cast by Marquee Moon or other key 1977 albums. The band's Blank Generation is still in some ways overlooked when albums from that mythical year are discussed, though it's aged far better than either Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols or the laughably naïve proselytizing and macho posturing of The Clash's self-titled debut. It's far more layered and complex than much of its punk brethren (and if you wanted to argue that it's not even a punk album, I wouldn't disagree), with Robert Quine and Ivan Julian's guitars sounding both abrasive and textured on songs like "New Pleasure" and "Down at the Rock and Roll Club." Of course the musical dexterity of Marquee Moon has by now put to rest the incorrect stereotype that punk bands couldn't play their instruments, but Blank Generation doesn't trail too far behind. The music is often matched by Hell's wit and lyricism, whether it's the double entendre and Hell's sneering vocals of "Love Comes In Spurts," the suspicion and paranoia of "Betrayal Takes Two," or the ambiguous sentiment of the album's title track.

Though Hell's later musical efforts failed to match Blank Generation's brilliance, one near-flawless album is one more than most artists achieve. For me it's always been of the purest examples of an overlooked masterpiece that, unlike many other 1977 albums, doesn't sound hopelessly stuck in a particular genre or period. Though that long-ago tension between Verlaine and Hell will likely still cause some people to view Blank Generation as the bastard stepchild of what might have been, such an approach does a disservice to the album. Today it still sounds wonderfully out of step with most punk albums from either side of the Atlantic, an album that still continues to surprise decades after all of that Year Zero nonsense has been largely forgotten. - Eric Dennis

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