Review Summary: I'm thirsty!
In the spring of 1975, with New York City’s first wave of punk on an exponentially wild upturn, two of the most frantic and doomed members of the New York Dolls pulled out of the group and were joined by ex-Television bassist Richard Hell to make scuzzy unhinged rock, but mostly to plunge headfirst into narcotics without label reps and band fellows tormenting them about addiction and liability. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan carried the heart of the Bowery squalor and all the artistic death that came with it like a badge of honour. By 1992, both of them would be dead, Nolan from a drug-induced stroke, and Thunders from an overdose, whose suspicious nature would fuel rumours of murder for years to come. However untimely or tragic, they were fitting ends to two spitfires eagerly dedicated to the half-life dash of rock n’ roll. In the meantime, they had regrouped with Hell, freshly sour from Television’s overtly pragmatic tendencies, and circling his own nosedive into scag. The one album the Heartbreakers would cut in ’77, along with Thunders’ phenomenal turn on his So Alone
the next year, were the last shattered breaths of NY punk’s visceral brand of opiated rock roots, that would soon give way to noise, no-wave and art-punk.
Anyone already attuned to the Dolls’ modus knows what they’re getting here. The album’s purposeful, even ideological dumbness is a nihilistic bacchanal for rebels without a cause; from the rallying cry of ‘I’m thirsty!’ on Born to Lose
, to the professed love and need for crack on the Dee Dee Ramone-penned Chinese Rocks
. Thunders unceremoniously smashes through songs, teeming with unhinged riffing, and cracking out one rollicking solo after another. The song titles read like a B-movie sequence. GoingSteady
, All By Myself
, One Track Mind
all state their mission from the outset. The Heartbreakers embrace wine-soaked anarchy with open arms, declaring an unabashed moratorium on purpose.
Hell’s presence seems almost a sore thumb in the line-up. His tenure with Television, and subsequent work as leader of the Voidoids, always walked a more intellectual, if a bit mannered line. And if the subject matter of pussy, junk and rock n’ roll is a bit removed from his more gilded pursuits, he at least gets plenty of opportunity to show off his chops. The bass-work on tatty anthem Pirate Love
and the momentum-packed Baby Talk
The ragged production on L.A.M.F.
has long been maligned, and by now has suffered through two failed attempts at re-mastering. In some ways, the album’s muddy sound is only a fitting representation of the ethos of the men and the culture behind it. For all the polished frenzies that Thunders brought to playing guitar, his train-wreck lifestyle is mirrored perfectly in the music’s sloppy, muted rage.
The Heartbreakers would go on to capture one of their agitated, violent live shows on film at Max’ Kansas City before falling apart, reuniting for sporadic shows with rotating bassists until Thunders’ demise. But their legacy remains, no matter how marred by personal malfunction and fluctuating music trends. It is punk in its first formation, devoid of manicured tattoo sleeves, mosh pits, crazed screams of suburban fury, or handsome short-haired gym freaks prostrating on stage. Just some old-fashioned rock n’ roll, played at the speed of life…