...a thrilling and improbably poignant listening experience.
Sid Smith 2007-04-24
Having been a member of Television in their pre-Marquee Moon days, stoked the bass for The Heartbreakers and chased by Malcolm McLaren during his New York Dolls phase, Richard Hell had already packed a lot into his CV by the time he got round to recording this seminal album. With his sulking bruise of a voice, torn clothes and a king-size sneer that Elvis would have been proud of, Hell was every inch a punk rock icon long before the safety-pinned crowds cottoned on to the new threads. Unlike the vast majority of the clones that would follow, there was a keen intelligence at work behind the pose.
He was into his late twenties when he stepped up to the microphone to record his tequila-fuelled vocals and for all their off-the-cuff artlessness, his words were honed by a voracious high-brow reading habit. Wry innuendo aside, “Love Comes In Spurts” traces the emotional atrophy of a childhood where love is doled out in miserly packages. Abuse of another kind is alluded to in “Liars Beware” and the anger of “Betrayal Takes Two isn’t deployed every which way but conveyed with the precision of a stiletto blade. As with the words, there’s more to music than first meets the ear. Though the vernacular deals in three-chord slang, Robert Quine’s maturity (35 at the time and as much influenced by Ornette Coleman as the Velvet Underground) lends the guitar parts on the album (shared with Ivan Julien) a subtle complexity that would not sound out of place on a Captain Beefheart album.
Eclectic cover versions (Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Walking On Water” and lounge crooning standard “All The Way”) add to the patina of deft accomplishment. There’s a neat Talking Heads-type sophistication about “The Plan”, whilst the epic twitch-funk smoke of “Another World” billows crazily like steam escaping from a New York street. There are perhaps only a handful of records which encapsulate the environment that spawned them but The Blank Generation bottles up the smell and feel of the whole NY CBGB era, making it a thrilling and improbably poignant listening experience.