Essential New Music: Richard Hell And The Voidoids’ “Destiny Street Complete”

How much does an album really matter? That all depends on who you ask. If you’re Neil Young, you have suitcases full of them, so it’s easy to let a treasure like Homegrown sit for 45 years before putting it out. But if you’re Richard Hell, who only recorded a few, not getting one right can eat at you. Especially if, as is the case with 1982’s Destiny Street, the artist’s own impaired state contributed to keeping it from being what it he thought it should’ve been—and a sadly typical music-business mishap (the label lost the tapes) kept him from fixing things for decades.  

Mind you, if you’re not Richard Hell, the original edition of Destiny Street is nothing to sneeze at. It contains a diverse and marvelous collection of songs, including an immortally mortality-steeped ballad (“Time”), some snarling rockers (including the tragically truthful “Ignore That Door”) and a playful, indelible shoulda-been-a-single (“The Kid With The Replaceable Head”). It featured the fantastic guitar team of Robert Quine and Juan “Naux” Maciel, driven by the unwavering backbeat of Fred Maher. And while Hell’s rudimentary bass playing and mad yelp never made him the first-call vocalist for jingle sessions, whether pledging love, declaring desperation or doling out the details of a shaggy-dog story about time-travel and self-seduction, he had you by the collar, unwilling to escape his grasp, even if he was about to take a spill down the stairs.

And this was punk rock, after all; it wasn’t supposed to be perfect. But all Hell heard when the album was done were the songs he should’ve sung better, the bass notes he flubbed and the massed blare of the guitars, which were overdubbed to infinity because he was too distracted by his lifestyle or paralyzed by self-doubt to actually enter the studio. 

If you want to hear more about what went wrong, Hell doesn’t spare himself or the record in the liner notes of Destiny Street Complete. But this is not just a reissue of a flawed, almost-40-year-old record. It’s also the authoritative chronicle of Hell’s attempts to set things right. Sometime in the early 2000s, he laid his hands on a tape of the album’s rhythm tracks and set about reconstructing the album. He re-recorded the vocals, and since Quine and Naux were both on the wrong side of the Styx to help out, he recruited Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot to redo the guitar solos.

While the latter should’ve been a deal-breaker, the added clarity and spiritual fidelity of the new playing actually complimented the elder, healthier Hell’s more on-target singing. It wasn’t the same record, but it was a really good one, and when it came out in 2009, Destiny Street Repaired stood out as a rare example of revisionism that didn’t come across like a backhanded insult to the original work. 

Things could’ve ended there, but then in 2019, Hell got an unexpected present. Three of the original four reels of Destiny Street’s 24-track masters turned up in an upstate New York storage space, which allowed him to do what he’d really wanted to do all along: remix the original record in order to add some definition to the blaring guitars. Hell repaired once more to the studio, where he stitched together a new version of Destiny Street from remixed original performances and three Repaired tracks in the place of the songs on the still-missing reel.

What’s the difference from the original? More midrange and definition, only occasionally at the expense of the barbed-wire hazard of the original mix. If you pick up the new vinyl edition, that’s the one you’ll get. But if you go digital, the double-CD edition provides all three versions of Destiny Street, as well as early takes of the songs from a demo session and a couple singles, plus a rendition of “Time” that Hell sang at Quine’s memorial service in 2004. This is the edition that looks like the essential reissue to beat in 2021.

—Bill Meyer