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There are few rock artists of any genuine significance whose catalogs are more of a mess than Johnny Thunders, and we pretty much have the artist himself to blame for that. While Thunders helped create two stone classic albums with the New York Dolls, once he struck out on his own, his seemed more interested in going for the fast buck than building a career (doubtless a product of his decades-long junk habit), and when you get past the Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F. and Thunders' So Alone, most of the recordings with his name attached to them are ragged throwaways or semi-bootleg live discs without much to recommend them. While Down to Kill is hardly the great missing testament to Thunders' gifts, at least it collects some worthwhile material with a genuine degree of care, and that makes it worthy of attention. Disc one pulls together some rare demo material, starting out with eight cuts recorded in 1976 that would later make up the bulk of L.A.M.F. (and the bulk of the Heartbreakers' standard repertoire), and if these aren't the definitive versions of "Born to Lose," "Can't Keep My Eyes on You," or "I Wanna Be Loved" (the latter without vocals), these rough but efficient recordings get to the heart of these songs better than the sloppily produced takes on L.A.M.F., and without the affected slop marring most of the many substandard live takes that circulate of this material. The rest of the studio stuff (including three Walter Lure-fronted numbers that don't feature Thunders at all) is OK but not great, though it's worth noting that "Too Much Junkie Business" fares better without lead addict Thunders than with his contribution. Disc two features 15 songs from the two sets the Heartbreakers recorded in London on March 1977 for the album D.T.K. Live at the Speakeasy, newly remixed for this release and sounding cleaner and more detailed than before. The band is fine when it settles into a good and dirty groove, but while Thunders frequently berates the audience for not being enthusiastic enough in the first set, given how sloppy the band sounds much of the time, it's hard to blame the kids for not being knocked out. Still, this is one of the best sounding Heartbreakers live recordings extant, and by the standards of this band, they're documented in tough, rough 'n' ready form. The set also includes a bonus DVD including video footage from two 1984 London gigs, four studio-shot solo acoustic performances, a clip of Thunders cursing his audience on Swedish television, and excerpts from Johnny's performance in the French film Mona et Moi. If you're not already a Johnny Thunders fan, this set isn't likely to convert you, but considering how many shoddy and depressing Thunders packages there are on the market, it's high praise to say that this is not one of them.

Down to Kill, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
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