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Had Blondie emerged in the Sixties, they would probably remain cool up to this very day. Unfortunately, they had the nerve to emerge in the late Seventies, and not only that, but they also enjoyed a few years of huge commercial success at that. A late Seventies commercially successful pop band - ohmygod, what a fuckin' nightmare. But it's not their fault that today you put on a Seventies-related movie like Donnie Brasco and get visions of people shaking their asses to 'Heart Of Glass' and 'One Way Or Another' alongside ELO's disco hits and even worse stuff. Well, it is their fault, but also the fault of people who aren't willing to take a little peek under the surface.Fact is, Blondie were one of the best pop bands of the late Seventies. And their strength was not just in melodies, nor was it in image (since everything about how Blondie is actually a band, not a girl, has been uttered a million times, I will refrain from further comments on media sexism). Appearing on the stage in 1976, Blondie ushered in a whole new era of pop music. They were young (well, not too young: apparently, Debbie Harry was more than thirty years old when their first album was released!), full of energy, and completely free of any complexes or restrictions on what and how they should play - provided it was loud, catchy, and soaked in hipness and sarcasm. They are usually tagged as "New Wave", which is correct "geographically" - after all, Blondie started out in the same CBGB area where the Talking Heads, Television, and others jumpstarted their careers - but occasionally raises questions like "What's so New Wave-ish about their girlish pop?" Well, first of all, "New Wave" is a vague notion - what do The Cars and The Police have in common? - and second, if we define "New Wave" as "radically new types of pop/rock music" that emerged in the late Seventies, hoowee, do Blondie ever qualify. They took their Motown, Britpop, hard rock, disco, reggae, cabaret, Broadway and glam influences, later adding everything else from country to rap, and brewed a stew that was definitely more than the sum of its elements. In a way, Blondie's greatest achievement was a colossal "Europeanizing" of the American pop scene - bringing in glossy slick elements that they were ready to pick off everyone from ABBA to Roxy Music. But that wasn't the only thing they did; for a short time at least, Blondie also made pop music smart. The standard boy-and-girl lyrical orientation of the pop genre suited them only as long as they could attach an air of irony and almost elitist sarcasm to it - consult the lyrics to either their debut or Plastic Letters and you'll know what I mean. Instead of innocent bubblegum or fun, but usually straightforward and starry-eyed power pop a la Big Star/Badfinger, they offered an approach where you could at the same time dig in to the groovy sound and not feel like a sissy about it. The irony started with the very name of the band: had Debbie Harry indeed sported the classic dumb blondie image, I doubt they'd have the nerve to call the band "Blondie". Instead, she was a self-assured, arrogant, slightly decadent half-vamp, half-bitch with a touch of class to her, while the boys in the band had those suits and ties and stylish "New Wave haircuts" and reveled in their geek image. Blondie did not hang around for too long - less than a decade - but even that time can be divided into three distinct periods. The 1976-77 "Pre-Fame" period would probably be the one area to tap for those who can't stand their glossy hits. This is Blondie at their rawest, smartest, and most interesting from a purely musical stance; the period in which their artistic reputation was carefully built up. The major change came when they hooked up with Holy Producer Mike Chapman; this ushered in the 1978-79 "Glory Days" era, with two albums that were almost immaculate from a song-by-song point of view, but were also intentionally "dumbed down" so that the band could finally get a hit. They got much more than one, making Parallel Lines a bestseller for all times and at the same time hurting their newly established reputation for future generations to come - no doubt, 'Heart Of Glass' was a great hit, but those who like their pop smart and hard-hittin' will definitely get a wrong perception of Blondie if that's the first Blondie song they're gonna hear, which they probably are. It takes context to properly put Parallel Lines into one, you know. Finally, the 1980-82 period can only be described as "The Twilight Years"; this is when internal strife in the band finally started producing negative results, and it didn't help that right at that same time the band finally overreached itself in an attempt to create a "musical encyclopaedia" of sorts, called Autoamerican, which was too dark, too pretentious, and too half-hearted to generate even half of the usual excitement associated with a Blondie album. They never managed to fit well into the Eighties' pop scene - now accustomed to making each of their new albums a hit, they had to choose between fading away or transforming into yet another one of all the newly emerging faceless synth-pop outfits. In a way, they were devoured by their own fame, as it so often happens. To their honour, though, they preferred to go the former way without inflicting such potential horrors as "that infamous 1986 Blondie album" upon the listener. That said, Blondie still had potential left - and it was aptly demonstrated on their 1999 comeback album, which managed to sound fresh, exciting and energetic without either falling victim to Nineties' trends or to unashamed nostalgia. Like I said, Blondie can very easily be misconstrued. Even some of their fans are willing to admit that, although they made great pop music, they didn't have no "edge" to it; therefore I would advise anybody who's interested to start with the band chronologically. I am a sucker for cool melodies, and am not ashamed to admit that my favourite album of theirs is still the megaselling Parallel Lines; but the funny, sarcastic, and very intelligent Plastic Letters runs a close second, and no pop lover's collection can be considered full without at least these two. Lineup: Debbie Harry - vocals; Chris Stein - lead guitar; Jim Destri - keyboards; Gary Valentine - bass; Clem Burke - drums. Valentine left, 1977, replaced by Frank Infante; Infante switched to rhythm guitar in 1978, replaced on bass by Nigel Harrison. Since I notice that I haven't said anything about the players, well, let's correct this by saing Clem Burke was one hell of a great drummer - never content with just sticking to four-four, his "drum phrasing" was always extremely expressive; once you get tired of relistening to 'Heart Of Glass' for all the obvious reasons, start relistening it for its last thirty seconds, just to see how fun the guy was (and still is - No Exit shows he hasn't lost a thing!).
Listenability: 4/5. Pretty
much everything they did was listenable. Not everything was interesting,
Resonance: 2/5. Well - they don't hit too deep, but at least they always do hit.
Originality: 1/5. Taking things and making 'em their own was always their forte.
Adequacy: 4/5. Yep, minus one point for stuff like 'Europa', I guess? They usually knew their limitations.
Diversity: 5/5. There is such a thing as "blondiefying" material, but it's vague. The number of styles they cover is astonishing.
Overall: 3.2 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Oh, I gotcha. "New Wave" actually means "taking old music and making it sound dumbass, but tongue-in-cheek". Right?Best song: anything but the last two. Maybe RIFLE RANGE.
Track listing: 1) X Offender; 2) Little Girl Lies; 3) In The Flesh; 4) Look Good In Blue; 5) In The Sun; 6) A Shark In Jets Clothing; 7) Man Overboard; 8) Rip Her To Shreds; 9) Rifle Range; 10) Kung Fu Girls; 11) The Attack Of The Giant Ants.
Blondie's first album is easily their most diverse. Too bad they released it first, being somewhat unexperienced in the studio and all - so many of the songs seem clumsy, somewhat underwritten, thinly produced and shakingly sung that I can't give it anything higher than an 11, but for an underwritten, poorly produced, and shakily sung record that's a damn high rating, too.Let's see now. These guys and this-a gal could do songs that sounded exactly like the Cars two years before the Cars debut. It is no wonder, then, that they often get credit for being the first "New Wave" band to have ever existed (and thus actually prove that New Wave really had nothing to do with punk - contrary to rumour, the two musical directions just happened to be born at the same time, not one out of another. Lots of punk bands "grew" into New Wave bands, sure, and that is what causes the misunderstanding, but hey, Blondie was released at about the same time as the Ramones debut, after all). However, unlike the Cars, in 1976 Blondie never seemed all that intent on making every single song of their sound the same way - which is, quirky jerky pop based on cheesy synth melodies. Jimmy Destri actually plays lots of different keyboard sets on the album, from pure simple unadulterated piano to God knows what. Sure things, the very first song - 'X Offender', with an easily-guessed "real" title - pretty much announces the beginning of a new era in the same way that 'Blitzkrieg Bop' announces it in a somewhat different way on a somewhat different album at almost the same time. Fast, bouncy, and all drenched in these shrill ear-piercing keyboards; not very innovative from a pure melodic standpoint, but certainly a breakthrough as far as musical textures go. Oh yeah, I guess now's the time as any to talk about Debbie Harry's seductive cooing about her unhappy romance with a police officer, right? Well, forget that. If anything, at this point Debbie is almost the weak link in the band - with a thin, breaking voice, occasionally getting off key or out of tempo, and actually nowhere near as proverbially "sexy" as certain other, much less known, female performers I could name (Sonja Kristina of Curved Air, for instance). That said, at least Debbie never detracts from the successful sonic attacks - her voice is definitely pleasant enough and fits the songs. I could-a used more power, tho', I guess. However, already the second song starts getting us away from any potential music revolutions, as the band starts demonstrating their music influences, one after one. The amazing thing is that, production aside, song after song is immaculately crafted as far as melody goes. Maybe some of the hooks take time to appreciate, but they all got to me with time. 'Little Girl Lies' is sort of a Sixties pop sendup, with just the short instrumental synth break to remind us which decade we're actually living in - otherwise, it's a cool little ringin' guitar-led pop ditty. Then on 'In The Flesh' they go for a friggin' doo-wop vibe - no, I'm not joking. Yeah, the forefathers (and the foremother) of New Wave are writing a goddamn DOO-WOP song. And it's great, with well-placed vocal harmonies and all. Then there's, what, a tango? 'Look Good In Blue' sure looks like one, just sped up a little bit. Again, whiny synthesizers perk up their little... uh... synthesizers aren't supposed to have heads, right? their little knobs all over the place, but essentially it's a moody, pensive tango. 'In The Sun', au contraire, is more of a twist than a tango, but again, with that peculiar Blondie look to it (meaning a dorky keyboardist pouring cheese over it and that dorky female vocalist straining her little supposed to be sexy voice to the max - geez does it sound dumb on paper, but believe me, you gotta try this at least once). 'A Shark In Jets Clothing' brings us to Vegas, I guess, with the dorky keyboardist trudging his trusty keyboard along and all, because this is New Wave Vegas, you know. Even if you have the fingersnapping and all. 'Man Overboard' is, what, funk? That guitar in my left speaker definitely plays it funky, and Gary Valentine lays down some of those slick disco basslines too. So, understood. All right. 'Rip Her To Shreds', then, is... I guess you could call it New Wave Glam or something. It's very distinctive in that it features the best Debbie delivery on the album - imitating a catfight in a song probably hits an actual nerve or something. It's a total gas each time she goes 'aaaah you know her - Miss Groupie Supreme...'. Maybe Debbie should play the bad girl part more often, you know. And finally, 'Rifle Range' is stylistically undetermined; a blues-based pop-rocker or something like that, but despite that (or maybe because of that) it seems to me the best-produced and most perfect song on the whole album. Vocal harmonies, that little organ tinkling in the background, those hard-rockin' descending lines after each chorus, the wailing weeping guitar introducing the song, everything rules. The record really falters only on the two last numbers. 'Kung Fu Girls' is the band's attempt at the one genre they prob'ly don't understand much at all - hard rock, and stupidly enough, it's the only song on the album which entirely lacks vocal hooks. And 'The Attack Of The Giant Ants', exploring Latin rhythms (together with the obligatory 'brrrrrrrhaaaah!' interludes), for some reason deems it necessary to merge them with a goofy sci-fi horror story replete with a "mock-apocalyptic" sound effect-based middle section. It honestly sounds stupid to me. What does a Latin rhythm have to do with giant ants? Ah well, despite this, it's still a goofy exercise in diversity. Maybe something like a "test", see: here we have this new keyboard sound and we want to try it in every situation. We'll filter out the bad ones later. It's amazing that nine of the eleven situations do pass the test, then - even if Blondie would never really get that diverse again. Excellent songwriting all the way through.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Growth! Maturity! Humor! And a bit of an edge, too. Can you say "bit of an edge" so that it would make sense?Best song: (I'M ALWAYS TOUCHED BY YOUR) PRESENCE, DEAR
Track listing: 1) Fan Mail; 2) Denis; 3) Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45); 4) Youth Nabbed As Sniper; 5) Contact In Red Square; 6) (I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear; 7) I'm On E; 8) I Didn't Have The Nerve To Say No; 9) Love At The Pier; 10) No Imagination; 11) Kidnapper; 12) Detroit 442; 13) Cautious Lip.
A small lineup change, with original bass player Gary Valentine out of the picture, replaced (so far, as guest player) by Frank "The Freak" Infante. Does it matter? No. Not really, unless you count one lost songwriter, but even so, he leaves the band with the best song anyway.A big change in style, though. And no, this is not yet the glossified Parallel Lines-era band. They weren't poised for megastar success yet, and this results in what is arguably Blondie's most complex and actually meaningful album. I've often heard complaints about how there was a "drop" in songwriting quality at this point, but there wasn't. There was a drop in immediately accessible hooks, which is why few of the songs really stick to me as much as the half-dozen best chestnuts off the self-titled record. But that doesn't matter, because when you listen to them, each and every song is good. Whether it's the lyrics (which are fun to read - you could, in a way, argue that Blondie defined New Wave much more through their sarcastic, "meta-pop" or "mock-pop" take on the romance subject), or Debbie's rapidly improving vocal delivery skills, or the full-sounding, self-assured sound mix, it's all good. In short, Blondie let us see the talent, and Plastic Letters lets us see the maturation of the talent. Again, in some way, they never surpassed this one. Let's look at the songs. Destri's 'Fan Mail' is a tricky signature-marked pop-rocker exploiting the "romance gone askance" subject for what it's worth - 'I sold my one vision, for a piece of cake, I haven't ate in days', Debbie intones, and soon afterwards the song builds up to a tremendous climax, with the bells really ringing as Debbie sings about 'em and a fun growl-turns-into-distorted-synthline coda. Then, 'Denis' is the album's piece-o-cheesecake # 1, but who in the world can resist a song that pins an unbeatable vocal melody against the 'Peggy Sue' riff, plus you get to hear Debbie actually sing in French? A mah-velous guilty pleasure if there ever was one, and besides, you know the band doesn't take that stuff seriously. That's the cool thing about Blondie which many people don't seem to get - they're taking swipes at all those cheesy, bubblegummy pop cliches, not engaging in them because they don't know how to do anything else. They have a Zappa-like love-hate attitude towards that kind of crap, in other words. 'Bermuda Triangle Blues' isn't a blues at all, but rather a... I dunno, it sounds like a prog-rock parody to me or something - a pompous mid-tempo arrangement with multiple folksy guitars and majestic synth/organ swoops, and against all that Debbie sings these lyrics about how "The coast guard said they might be found/They know just where the plane went down". It's absolutely hilarious when you consult the lyrics. Then, 'Youth Nabbed As Sniper' is the band's violent, sneering thrashing of teen angst and everything that goes with it, ending with the ridiculous death of the protagonist: 'Fear causes some to live/Others die real cool/I died in the evening after school'. They emphasize the "darkness" of the song with some really gruesome guitar and synth tones, and, of course, the peak moments come every time Debbie croons, '...and I must fight.... this... NOTHINGNESS!'. Next, a slightly modified phrase from the James Bond theme announces the band's parody on the spy genre - 'Contact In Red Square'. Again, it's not like there's a lot of hooks in the song, but it actually feels like a two-minute rock opera by itself, incorporating synth-styled Russian folk motives and what-not. It's fun! And it's immediately followed by the album's best pure musical performance: apparently, Gary Valentine wasn't that much into the ironic thrashing of contemporary culture fads, so he just contributed a witty love song, a bit in the ABBA mold, and it's wonderful - '(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear', unsurprisingly chosen as one of the album's two singles ('Denis' was the other one), boasts a gorgeous chorus hook and a great optimistic drive, you know, the typical great Blondie drive, the one you probably know from 'Hangin' On The Telephone'. Then, back to the sneering, with one highlight after another: 'I'm On E', with its paranoid beat and a guitar line lifted straight from the Ramones; another mock romance tune, with Debbie straining her voice as much as possible ('I Didn't Have The Nerve To Say No' - another unbeatable hook here); another mock romance ('Love At The Pier'), this time penned by Debbie herself, with lyrics perilously bordering on the juvenile but salvaged by the band's goofy "backing vocals" in the end; the cabaret-influenced 'No Imagination', with Twenties-style lyrics only occasionally hinting at the sarcasm ('you're fragile and you're very green/Conditioned by a milk machine'); the barroom boogie 'Kidnapper', where Debbie shows she actually does know how to make a good growl when necessary; the gritty, speedy 'Detroit 442', pretty much the only trace of the punk influence, with the breathtaking 'In Detroit 442! maybe baby I could ride with you...' line; and finally, ending it all with the subtle, sleazy 'Cautious Lip', a song with hardly any radio potential at all - it's so slow, plodding, oblique, dangerous and "mock-dangerous" at the same time. Heh. This sure ain't your Parallel Lines. To cut a long story short (well, granted, it's already late to cut anything short, but where would we be without the obligatory introductory phrase?), I think it's no big surprise Plastic Letters regularly baffles the critic: most people work their way towards this album, back from the more popular Parallel Lines and its sequels and the radio hits, and they're simply not ready for a slightly more sophisticated level of complexity from this band. But there you have it - stylistically varied, based on untrivial melodies and rhythms, and totally awash in post-modernistic, too-smart-for-their-own-good lyrics. Fuck stereotypes, I say, especially those that say Blondie are a band that must be as dumb as they look on their album covers.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Greatest pop album of the Seventies? Could be. But why do the guys all look like high school graduates looking for fresh meat?Best song: HEART OF GLASS
Track listing: 1) Hanging On The Telephone; 2) One Way Or Another; 3) Picture This; 4) Fade Away And Radiate; 5) Pretty Baby; 6) I Know But I Don't Know; 7) 11:59; 8) Will Anything Happen?; 9) Sunday Girl; 10) Heart Of Glass; 11) I'm Gonna Love You Too; 12) Just Go Away.
Ah yeah, this is the one that made them so goddamn huge. Has 'Heart Of Glass' on it, too. I'd like to use this opportunity to flash some elitism, and give the high mark to Plastic Letters seeing as how it was Blondie's most 'intelligent' album, but nature's forces urge me to sell out and rate Parallel Lines higher. To complete the sellout, I'll also say that 'Heart Of Glass' is the best song. White disco at its top, right there along with 'Stayin' Alive', 'Miss You', and Sparks' 'When I'm With You'. To make the pill a little sweeter for all you people out there who hate disco or white disco or Blondie disco, I urge you to listen to Clem Burke's drumming near the end of the song. Boy, is that guy killer! Fill after fill, and not a single one sounds the same.Anyway, you probably know 'Heart Of Glass' from the radio, but truth is, it's atypical of the album's sound - it's the only true disco song on here, to be earnest. The band sure dabbled in the genre, but never took it to heart seriously (all the more amazing how goddamn professional they sound at it). It's pretty hard to say though what this album sounds like: diversity has always been the key in Blondie's output, and as usual, on Parallel Lines they continue genre-hopping, adding disco to a mix of balladeering, power pop, occasional hard rock, occasional atmospheric pieces, and even occasional rockabilly. What ties it all together is Mike Chapman's production (yes, that's the guy of Chapman & Chinn, responsible for launching Sweet's career): glossy, smooth, a bit loungey, and very European-sounding. Well, okay, it's the band that sounds European, the Chapman guy is just smart enough to emphasize that. The songs are also extremely straightforward this time around. No more sardonic spy story send-ups or half-juvenile 'Love At The Pier' horror tales; the songs, one after one, deal with real love matters, mostly stories of broken romance, nostalgia, treason, revenge, you name it. Of course, with a strong feminist stance, too; after all, Debbie's one of those girls who's supposed to kick guys' asses instead of kowtowing, right? So the "girl seeks guy" motive becomes a "you won't get away from me" motive ('One Way Or Another'), and the "he gone broke my heart" motive becomes a "it was a pain in the ass anyway" motive ('Heart Of Glass'). But why deny quality when you find it? After all, Blondie's main strength never was in the lyrics, it was in the hooks, the melodies, the diversity of approach, all the cool little tiny things you can hold on to... Like that telephone beep which introduces the album - and one of its best songs, the unbeatable catchy rocker 'Hanging On The Telephone'. Two minutes, no more, and all over these two minutes, you get passion, an intense, attention-locking hook in the chorus, a middle-eight where Debbie unleashes all of her theatrical capacities ('oooooh, I can't control myself...'), and a brief wild guitar solo, AND a climactic rush-to-the-end! Yeah, you get all that and more. And then you get 'One Way Or Another', a brutal slab of "militant feminism" that would be absolutely ridiculous were it not totally obvious that the band themselves are having a good laugh over it, with another one of those Berry-inspired frantic guitar breaks from Mr Infante and Debbie's voice developing the necessary amount of hoarseness (cigarette smoking is good for your rock'n'roll voice, sayeth the surgeon general) to sound tough enough to carry it out. The soulful pop-rocker 'Pretty Baby' captures a bit of that subdued Seventies' majesty which characterizes the decade's best pop songs (see Paul McCartney and ABBA for further reference). Infante contributes 'I Know But I Don't Know', and it's the only song on the album with a powerhouse hard rock riff from Mr I-Prevent-This-Band-From-Completely-Going-The-Synth-Pop-Route (by the way, I have no idea whether this Mr was Infante or Chris Stein! Maybe both of them, eh?). 'Will Anything Happen?' gets a mammoth near-punkish rhythm going, but matches it with a pretty poppy hook... ...forget it, it's useless to go song by song here. A hook here, a hook there - a hard rock setting here, a wimp rock setting there. That's how it goes. Let me just single out the most unusual stuff, then: 'Fade Away And Radiate', with its slow, broody pulse, almost Gothic vocal delivery, and creepy guitar leads courtesy of guest star Robert Fripp (yes, all you nasty snobs, Robert Fripp didn't find it below his dignity to guest on a Blondie record, in fact, there was a lot he could learn from Blondie as well), really doesn't belong on the record at all, but am I nevertheless glad it's there - lending even more credibility to these guys, and putting a serious Marilyn Monroe-dedicated rant in the middle of all the lighthearted goofiness. The Buddy Holly cover ('I'm Gonna Love You Too') is done in classic CBGB style, I guess, and it kicks ass. And, of course, there's 'Heart Of Glass', too. Damn. Wish I could drum like Clem Burke. Whoever said you can't show off on drums when you're doing disco? Dirty lies! It's no small coincidence that the album happened to come out the same year that the Cars released their debut - there's a tremendous lot of similarities, and, in fact, these two albums are more or less responsible for changing the face of American pop music. Whether or not it was a good thing is another matter; the actual good thing is that both albums were excellent, and both were landmarks. And hey, if this here review isn't enough to convince you of the album's greatness, that's only natural: the strength of Parallel Lines is primarily in the sheer melodic pool-o'-ideas, and only secondarily in the general stylistics. Which is why it has aged pretty well, unlike... eh... uh... never mind.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Apart from some unsuccessful bluffing on Side 2, it's just more pop bliss for youse.Best song: DREAMING
Track listing: 1) Dreaming; 2) The Hardest Part; 3) Union City Blue; 4) Shayla; 5) Eat To The Beat; 6) Accidents Never Happen; 7) Die Young Stay Pretty; 8) Slow Motion; 9) Atomic; 10) Sound-A-Sleep; 11) Victor; 12) Living In The Real World.
The only serious offense that Blondie's fourth album does is not being its third. Parallel Lines might have been consciously "cheaper" than the band's 'hipper' beginnings, but it was practically perfect. Eat To The Beat is about just as "cheap" but slightly less than perfect, which, of course, means that in many circles it has been tagged as a 'failure'. Well failure this!The first side of this record is immaculate anyway. And in one sense at least, it ends up beating Parallel Lines: the production is mighty fine improved. With an obviously bigger budget and stuff, these guys were now making the transition from 'home brew' to 'big techno gadget phantasmagoria'. Without losing the prime focus on guitars, of course. 'Dreaming' opens the record with such a flourish as has never yet been experienced on a Blondie record. Debbie's vocals actually benefit from a moderate layer of echo - gone is the "thin", creaky effect of her not-too-sure approach on the self-titled album, and with the bounce-off-the-wall effect to her voice, she ends up sounding like both of the girls from ABBA at once. Which is a compliment, mind you. 'Dreaming' is very much an ABBA-esque song, with guitars substituted for keyboards, and is a prime example of lush Europop - glitzy, catchy, gorgeous, and romantic as heck. However, already the second song shows that it's a bit too early to write Blondie off as innocent starry-eyed schmaltz. 'The Hardest Part' is a surprisingly gritty, hard-rocking disco tune where Debbie retains the echo on the vocals, but completely sheds the glamour and gives her best ragged-punk delivery. There's a magnificent Seventies-style hard-rocking guitar solo in addition, and no matter how the bass rumbles just scream "disco! disco!" at us, the song really comes across as a sharp-toothed rocker, and in spirit is much closer to the Talking Heads than to the Bee Gees. Perhaps I should give out the obligatory thanks to Clem Burke's maniac drumming. Then it's back to pop with the amazing 'Union City Blue'. If you've ever wondered at the all-engulfing guitar beauty that is the Clash's epic 'Somebody Got Murdered' track, well then you'll be interested in knowing that they pretty much nicked the basic textures off this song. I'm pretty sure Blondie did not invent them either, but it's hard for me to tell whether I've heard them on earlier records, although there is certainly more than just an indirect trace of the classic Sparks sound here. But the important thing is, this is mostly done with guitars - the keyboards are very much suppressed in the background, and this makes the song entirely cheese-free. It is then followed by the pretty ballad 'Shayla', elevated to "really really pretty" status with Debbie's sugarcoat delivery and her trademark 'whoah-whoah's. Those who pay particular attention will notice traces of social commentary in the lyrics, but it's not like you're required to pay particular attention. Not any longer. Not since Parallel Lines clearly stated that Blondie were first and foremost about the music and only second about being smart. (Not that they ever looked dumb. They looked like smart kids trying to look dumb. Which puts them apart from the Ramones, who were dumb kids trying to look even dumber and only as a result of that looked like smart kids trying to look dumb). The title track is a bit messy - a short outburst of pseudo-punkish energy with lyrics that more or less match the song's title in its not making any sense - but it's short and sort of fun, with an unpredictable verse structure if it's any consolation, and then Side A ends with 'Accidents Never Happen', which could, in a jiffy, be regarded as an answer to Elvis Costello's 'Accidents Will Happen', although I'm not quite sure which song came first (both were released in 1979). Of course, where Mr Costello uses the song as an excuse for expressing some of the usual soul-tormenting concerns of your average singer songwriter, Blondie don't give much of a shit and make it into a tough sexist statement, set to a steady beat and an equally steady rock riff. That's the first side: straight, understandable, and shaped to near-perfection. The second side stands in direct contrast. This is where Blondie unleash their experimentation and genre-hopping on us. The following six songs alternate between reggae, power-pop, straightahead disco, a friggin' lullaby, avantgarde rock, and pop-punk. Well, at least there's no sitar-driven salsa. Goes without saying that for most listeners, it is the second side that raises the most questions, and yours truly is no exception, although, frankly, there is only one song on here that I actively do not like. And no, it's not 'Atomic'. I like 'Atomic' a lot. Yes, it is disco fodder, a pure trashy dance number destined for clubland, but what a fun trashy dance number. I can still hum that riff in my head. Besides, let's not forget that (a) according to the laws of the times, they might just as well have extended it to eleven minutes and nobody would have a right to complain, (b) it, and some of its colleagues, almost certainly influenced the "New Romantic" movement in the early Eighties (which, granted, wasn't exactly the highest-ranking musical movement on Earth, but still yielded at least a small bunch o' good stuff). Am I the only one to hear echoes of 'Atomic' in songs such as Duran Duran's 'Careless Memories'? Think about it and you might join my personal club. No, the song I actively can't stand is 'Sound-A-Sleep'. Debbie's voice is suitable enough for lullabies, to the point of me definitely wanting her for my mother (or, better, grandmother), but Blondie as a band sure aren't. They did a good job with the "slow, moody" song on 'Fade Away And Radiate', but they had Robert Fripp for that one, and some sort of sonic conception, if you know what I mean. This song is just a lullaby. More or less. Four minutes of hypnotic (in a bad sense) noodling. The only good moment is when WHAM! at the end of these four minutes they kick the sleep out of you with the terrific absurd-chaos of 'Victor' - three minutes of pointless, directionless, self-indulgent, pretentious rocking out interspersed with spooky Gregorian chant-like harmonies. Senseless, but entertaining, and thrice entertaining after the failed lullaby thing. But whatever you feel about these songs, don't forget that it's the side which also has 'Living In The Real World' - one of the band's best straightahead upbeat punkish declarations - and the power-pop masterpiece 'Slow Motion', which, along with 'Dreaming' and 'Union City Blue', forms The Colossal Radiant Trio of the album. Seriously, it's not that difficult to make these kinds of songs, but nobody but Blondie ever could do them with so little effort and so much conviction, emotion, and entertainment value. So chalk this one up, if you will! One bad song out of twelve sure don't spoil me piece of pie, and so I think I'll go play the record once more and maybe just sit on the corner with a piece of pizza and EAT TO THE BEAT! EAT TO THE BEAT!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Diversity can be a curse sometimes, you know?Best song: ANGELS ON THE BALCONY
Track listing: 1) Europa; 2) Live It Up; 3) Here's Looking At You; 4) The Tide Is High; 5) Angels On The Balcony; 6) Go Through It; 7) Do The Dark; 8) Rapture; 9) Faces; 10) T-Birds; 11) Walk Like Me; 12) Follow Me.
Some bands fade away, some bands fizzle out, some break apart - Blondie preferred to go the odd route and undergo a violent, virulent, malevolent mutation. This is not the band that recorded Blondie, Plastic Letters, Parallel Lines and Eat To The Beat. This is a different band. I don't recognize it. Whether I want something to do with it or not is a different matter, but the fact remains: there had to be a hell of a lot of changes made in one year to get a final result like that.Presumably this is, very much, a different band. In fact, I've heard rumours that Frank Infante almost sued the other band members for keeping him off the record, while at the same time populating it with dozens of session musicians (although Mike Chapman is still at the steering wheel as producer). As a result, if Parallel Lines took away their innocence, Autoamerican takes away their youth. Gone are the excitement and cheap - but delicious! - thrill of the early records, and in their place arrives cold, detached, and just a bit too sterile professionalism. And nowhere is this as evident as in Debbie's vocals. For most of the album, and it does not even depend on the particular style she's covering at the moment, she sounds like she's singing from inside a deep freeze chamber. Screams and hollers? Joy 'n' excitement? Forget that. She's thirty-five years old. It's time to drop the frolicky attitude. (Not that you could tell by looking at the album cover). As the Grand Maitres of New Wave, Blondie must have felt it was time to make a grand statement. This is where adequacy flows out of the window: when a band called 'Blondie' decides to make a grand statement. This is their "eclectic" album, where they touch upon half a dozen different styles and mold them all into one. To tell the truth, rumours of its diversity have been slightly exaggerated - there's hardly anything on here they haven't already done before, except for maybe straightforward Twenties music of 'Here's Looking At You' (although music like that has definitely influenced their early records a lot). Yes, and the rapped bits on 'Rapture'. Oh, and the neoclassical thingy on 'Europa'. Well, okay, screw that statement. Or rather accept it as a veiled hint at a suggestion that the diversity of the record may not hit you in the face upon first listen. But actually, it is not diversity that kills the album - it is sterility. The main motto on here seems to have been: "Fun Is For Amateurs; We Are Seasoned Pros". This is why the first thing that greets you is the half-traditional, half-atonal violin mess of Chris Stein's neoclassical instrumental 'Europa'. For those who expected another 'X Offender' or 'Dreaming' this should probably come as a cold shower. It's not a particularly bad instrumental (in fact, when the melancholic guitar line comes in it's downright pretty), but nothing could be further from "classic" Blondie, and it does leave you scartching your head, wondering why the hell you have to hear this stuff from Blondie when you could just as well be hearing it from Camel or even, I dunno, Styx. But, okay, well, it's just the introduction (replete with a deadly serious Debbie monologue on the significance of motorized transportation, I shit you not). Surely we're gonna get better? Uh-huh. The second track is a grim, Un-Fun, and essentially hookless disco track ('Live It Up') which is to 'Heart Of Glass' as a Paul McCartney song circa 1989 is to a Paul McCartney song circa 1969. Are they trying to tell me something with that song? Sorry, I don't want to be told anything, not since you guys pretty much dumped the whole hip ironic business after 1977. I just wanna have fun. And 'Live It Up', no matter how you try, just does not live it up. If it weren't for Clem Burke's immaculate drumming - as usual - I couldn't even bring myself to tap my foot to it. I really have no idea why, but curiously flat song after curiously flat song follows. 'Go Through It' could be a really enticing fast pop-rocker, but Debbie sings it like somebody who's only just set foot inside a recording studio for the very first time, and the unexpectedly grim mid-section sucks the last remains of bouncy shininess of this song that practically embodies the notion of "tepid". 'Do The Dark' is mildly better, but don't these Sufi-style keyboards sound a bit dumb when set to generic disco backing? 'Atomic' was like Bach compared to this duffer, catchy chorus and all. The jazz noodling of 'Faces' could only succeed with an Ella Fitzgerald-like figure at the mike, and I don't think anybody would argue that Debbie qualifies. 'T-Birds' is, what, Phil Spector-ian rockabilly? The wall of sound is definitely not for Blondie. 'Walk Like Me' is, what, an attempt to better the Cars by playing a bit faster? Find a better idea for the chorus than paranoidally shouting 'Walk like me! Walk like me!' 'Follow Me' is, what, an attempt to make something in the vein of 'Over The Rainbow' crossed with the lullaby atmosphere of 'Sound-A-Sleep'? Lame. Actually, all these songs are very different, and some are notably better than others ('Do The Dark' ended up growing on me, while 'Faces' ended up growing off me), but they're all united by one thing: there's no soul in them. The soul was somewhere else. And I don't blame the production; I blame the band. Either, in their attempt to branch out, they were keeping themselves going on amphetamines for days on end, or deep down inside they didn't really want to branch out and just felt they had to do it to fit the trend. Follow the example of the Talking Heads or the Clash. But they didn't have the intelligence of the former or the grand vision of the latter, so... Still, there's some good material on here as well. The two big hits were the brass-reggae 'The Tide Is High' and the first-rap-hit-by-a-white-artist, 'Rapture' - both pretty good songs, especially the latter, which somehow manages to take a rather commonplace funk jam and transform it into a Big Statement by having Debbie rap about the man on Mars eating cars and bars and guitars. Two minuses make a plus, you know: the song's a real wonder, and manages to be the one true moment of genuine Blondie-class goof amidst all the attempts at seriousness. There's also 'Here's Looking At You', a catchy, slightly sarcastic Twenties-style number that is really suited to Debbie's purposes, and particularly 'Angels On The Balcony', a gorgeous, resplendent fast-paced ballad highlighted by that wonderful guitar jangle, produced by - most probably - some unknown studio musician. These songs manage to save the album some face, and the final results aren't nearly as sour as could have been. But they can't mask the obvious: Blondie tried to Grow Up, yet essentially failed to do that. Some might disagree with me here - Autoamerican does have a relatively small fanbase - but, in the end, it's up to you to choose how you want your Blondie: young, raving and jovial or old, tired, and inadequately serious. You don't even need to listen to the songs. Look at the album cover of Parallel Lines. Now look at the cover of Autoamerican. Now make your decision.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
So Eighties. Soooooo Eighties. Whatever bad things you might say about Blondie, they WEREN'T THE EIGHTIES. But here they are.Best song: ENGLISH BOYS
Track listing: 1) Orchid Club; 2) Island Of Lost Souls; 3) Dragonfly; 4) For Your Eyes Only; 5) The Beast; 6) War Child; 7) Little Caesar; 8) Danceway; 9) (Can I) Find The Right Words (To Say); 10) English Boys; 11) The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.
The most stupid thing about this record is that everybody says they only made it under pressure from the record label as a contractual obligation - in which case, why the hell couldn't they make it the way they used to make records? If they didn't care at all by that point, hey, I'll take uninspired Plastic Letters-style Blondie over uninspired Hunter-style Blondie any day. Unless, of course, they just put whatever feeble songwriting efforts they managed to come up with into the hands of their producers and never even took one single listen to the final product. Oh, and let themselves be photographed as this "cool" bunch of New Romantics. Yeah, right. Take this album sleeve to your friends, show it to them from a distance and ask, "What's this?", and I'll be damned if the answer ain't gonna be, "An old Duran Duran album featuring Lita Ford". Woohoo, the Eighties were a fine decade.Surprisingly, though, the album ain't that bad. In fact, chunks of it manage to be listenable despite the circumstances: despite the band's obvious disinterest, despite the onslaught of musically sickening Eighties' production, despite the half-successful gamble with Autoamerican, despite everything. Of course, you'll have to crash through the general dreariness and massive overproduction. Yeah, The Hunter is, in general, even more cluttered with gadgets and extraneous instruments than Autoamerican, and the resulting wall-of-sound is significantly messier and definitely nowhere near as shiny and involving as the one they used to have on the 1978-79 albums. Particularly annoying can be the overabundance of, mmm, how to say it politely, "ethnic percussion" - and not just because the loud bashing electronic tomtoms obscure the melodies but also because they simply don't let Clem Burke actually do anything. His trademark style can only really be seen on one or two numbers; everywhere else his talents are simply not needed. Same actually goes for everybody else: Blondie as instrumentalists cease to exist on this record. However, once you've crashed through that and have come to accept the album as a (a) dark declaration of disillusionment, (b) neurotic notice of nostalgia, and (c) acid assertion of apathy, some of its pieces will fit into your world scheme. Probably. 'Orchid Club' is the darkest song Blondie ever did, almost Goth in its swirl, let's say, a percussion-and-synth-heavy variant of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and it's a relatively decent genre experimentation - if you like darkness and moodiness for darkness' and moodiness' cause, I'd say this one qualifies. It's all based around one single spiral vocal hook from Debbie, of course, but that hook is good (apart from the final prolonged scream - hey Debbie, that's not yer forte), and, in fact, the song is nowhere as corny in its gloominess as some of the more "generic" Siouxsie material. You know how it goes - sometimes having one "gloomy" song in your catalog is better than having a hundred. On the other hand, with its near-six-minute length, 'Orchid Club' really tries the patience of ye olde Blondie fan, in which case I'd better direct him to 'Island Of Lost Souls', a calypso groove that continues the "tradition" of 'The Tide Is High', being a bit more rough, but also a bit more playful and even catchier. For some reason, it's the cheeriest song on the album - coming right after the gloomiest one, it is one hell of a contrast which certainly shatters the hopes of anybody who'd longed for a little continuity and cohesiveness. Cohesive this album is not. Then again, neither was Autoamerican. To prove that they don't give a damn about cohesiveness, they offer us their attempt at writing a James Bond song - their version of 'For Your Eyes Only', certainly not one of Blondie's best, but dang better than whatever crap they actually were singing in For Your Eyes Only. Maybe the producers found the tempo too fast? What's all this with respectable artists like Blondie and Alice Cooper getting their songs rejected by Bond makers? Where's the goddang Recognition? Instead, they choose unknown nogoodniks like Paul McCartney. What's the world coming to? My favourite two songs are on Side B, though. 'War Child' is a synth-rocker that sounds unusually sharp and, well, even ass-kicking for a synth-rocker - and actually makes me empathize towards Debbie as she self-indulgently proclaims "I'm a war child/I'm a war baby/And that's the difference/Between you and me". The funny thing, not many people may realize that, but Debbie really is a war child, having been born in 1945 (that's right, meaning she became a star at the tender age of thirty-one: an amazing feat for a female performer and, I guess, pretty much impossible nowadays, what with tits forever replacing talent as the number one requirement for potential female stars. Not that Debbie had poor tits in 1976, but hey, surely that's nothing by today's standards?). Anyway, that chorus sounds totally convincing, whatever the actual message might be, and the brass-anchored melody is strong and rousing so that you can easily disregard the usual synth trappings of the arrangement. Even better is 'English Boys', a real gem of a nostalgic ballad that you really have to fish out from all the filler - buried deep under the sediments of Side B, it has Debbie at her sweetest and most sentimental without pulling any of her usual faces. It goes without saying that in 1982, she's got all the rights to her personal slice of nostalgia and moralizing, and she does a fine job, maybe even bringing a tear or two to the faces of those who truly empathize. It's probably the only song on the album that doesn't suffer from overproduction either: clearly, it must have meant something to Ms Harry, and in a way, serves as a perfect swan song to Blondie as a whole. The problem is, like I said, you'll have to fish these gems and half-gems out of a lot of muck and half-muck. None of the songs are offensive, but few of the rest amount to much. Some are obviously stretched to monster-like length in order to fill space: 'Dragonfly' pretty much says everything it had to say in two and a half minutes, a fun little popper about nothing in particular, but then painfully tries to say something else for four minutes and fizzles away only when it comes to a full and complete realization of the futileness of this task. 'The Beast' has a nicely constructed, if very much Trevor Rabin-style, riff, but totally wastes it when we realize that the actual point of the song is to try and recapture the atmosphere of 'Rapture'. WHY??? One 'Rapture' is good enough for anybody. And then, on Side B, they try to go for a diverse approach again, with rote, forgettable stabs at reggae ('Little Caesar'), twist ('Danceway'), and twisted dance-pop ('Find The Right Words'), all heavily peppered with Eighties synths instead of hooks. Out of these, only the Smokey Robinson cover ('The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game') produces any effect on me - they manage to pull off the lazy, melancholic, and at the same time slightly sinuous and seedy atmosphere of the song (check Infante's - if it is Infante, of course - retro bluesy solo, in particular). Not to mention that putting this slightly enigmatic piece at the end of the album will get many a-person thinking of it as an allegory. 'The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game' - of course, "The Hunter" are Blondie themselves, and "The Game" - well, the game IS the game. They pretty much ruined themselves with their own hunting, didn't they? Good-bye now. Curtains. Go home, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, draw the curtains, and settle into hours and hours of introspective meditation. Heck, feel free to throw on one more point if you wanna emphasize the "swan song" quality of the record. It's a good swan song. Boring and confusing, yes, but as a last dance of death, it definitely works. All of it except the album cover, of course. Was the leotard really necessary?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
THIS is the album "Autoamerican" promised to be but never was.Best song: NOTHING IS REAL BUT THE GIRL
Track listing: 1) Screaming Skin; 2) Forgive And Forget; 3) Maria; 4) No Exit; 5) Double Take; 6) Nothing Is Real But The Girl; 7) Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room; 8) Night Wind Sent; 9) Under The Gun; 10) Out In The Streets; 11) Happy Dog; 12) The Dream's Lost On Me; 13) Divine; 14) Dig Up The Conjo.
If this is not a comeback, feel free to call me germ. Years have taken their toll on Debbie: her upper range has been cut pretty bad, and thus, while the "darker" numbers that require her to growl, snarl, or whisper come off well, those where she has to do some falsetto cooing are quite painful to listen to until you get a little bit used to this "new" hoarse tone of hers. Granted, you can't expect much from a fifty plus year old "matron" steeped in cigarette smoke, but it's one thing what kind of consolations your brain offers you, and another thing what kind of gut reaction you actually experience. However, that's pretty much the only accusation I could throw against this excellent record.There is not much "rational sense" to it; summarizing No Exit in one phrase would look something like 'a disjointed album of constant genre-hopping'. However, that was what Blondie had always been about: recklessly wading into every cesspool along the road, not giving one damn about what might follow. It would be much more unpleasant if somebody could brand No Exit as an "old men (and women)" album. If it had the band members complaining about the decline of society to a bunch of synthesizer noises and drum machines. If it picked up from where The Hunter left off - and The Hunter was, indeed, way more soaked in nostalgia and moralizing than this record, which doesn't have any equivalents of 'War Child' or 'English Boys' on it. Instead, it's a jovial, competent, and, for the most part, tremendously fun ride through a pack of musical styles, with creative arrangements, meaningless, but not exactly dumb lyrics, and catchy vocal melodies where no two songs sound alike and everyone is bound to find at least something to like. It's their most diverse album ever (and for a band like Blondie, that's saying something, isn't it?), and succeeds where Autoamerican failed so miserably, for one simple reason, I guess: this time, they're actually willing to make it succeed. And it is much more close to the classic Blondie spirit than Autoamerican, because it is essentially an upbeat record. The black-and-blue album cover is extremely misleading: in reality, this is a very colourful record. With a collection of songs as "multi-sided" as this, it will be a pleasure to just skim through the songs one by one. 'Screaming Skin' opens the record with a pretty tight punch for an essentially simple ska number - nevertheless, driven by crunchy guitar, embellished by a cooky, but cute vocal melody, and, of course, punctuated by some of Clem Burke's best drumming since at least 1979. If it goes on a bit too long, blame the CD age for that. 'Forgive And Forget' is an unexpectedly Eighties-style dance-synth number, slightly reminiscent of Madonna's 'Into The Groove': hardly a highlight, but still catchy and, most importantly, amusingly "novel" in such a decidedly non-Eighties overall context. If you didn't think much of these two, the mini-hit 'Maria' (which actually restored Blondie to the charts for some time!) probably will - this fast, pulsating pop ditty courtesy of Jim Destri would have felt right at home on Parallel Lines, with Debbie at her absolute sinuous best. Formally retro, it doesn't feel one bit retro: maybe they just picked the perfect production for it or something. But just so you don't get the illusion you're going to stick in the power-pop area from now on, along comes the title track, a trip-hop composition with Coolio guest-starring on the rapped bits and Destri spicing the piece up with Bach-like keyboard passages, while Chris Stein inserts a passage from 'Hall Of The Mountain King' every now and then. This is, like, weird, man. Call it trashy if you wish; I call it fun and creative, and I get a kick from singing along to the 'who's gonna cry over you?' chorus. So far, we haven't had a ballad: 'Double Take' is one, a slow, stately, soulful song that reminds us how Blondie are actually capable of sounding majestic when they want to get out of their playful image for once. Think 'Angels On The Balcony' seriously slowed down and "solemnified" - not that it's a chef-d'oeuvre or anything, but the atmosphere is pleasant and cheeseless. Then it's back to power-pop again, with my favourite song on the album: 'Nothing Is Real But The Girl', once again, a song that easily ranks up there with the very best stuff on Parallel Lines. Note that, like 'Maria', the song is also entirely credited to Destri, which makes me suspect that by 1999 he alone remained fully true to the band's classic power-pop sound. Which is all right by me, as long as the rest of the band members would be willing to perform his material with conviction - and they are. There is a little tinge of sadness in Debbie's vocal delivery... maybe I was wrong when I said there was no nostalgia on this album. 'Nothing is real but the girl/Only her eyes are solid'. Watch out for Clem's maniacal fills in the coda! 'Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room' - what's a Blondie album without some lounge music to brighten a slacker's day? I used to seriously dislike that number because there was too much hoarse cooing on the part of Ms Harry on it, but then I came to regard it as some sort of innocent spoof on Ella Fitzgerald, and today my main complaint is that it ain't too memorable. (Is lounge music supposed to be memorable? Tough question). 'Night Wind Sent' - another ballad, this time in the dreamy romantic vein, with ambivalent lyrical lines like 'your music by the night wind sent/awakes my quiet instrument' and an atmosphere that would make it suitable for inclusion into the Titanic soundtrack. Why don't they give Celine Dion that kind of material, goddammit? 'Under The Gun' is sort of a neutral pop-rocker with weirdly warped Western lyrical themes and nothing particularly impressive about it... in my mind, this song initiates a tiny filler streak which also includes their cover of the Shangri-Las' 'Out In The Streets' (not that the song is bad, it's that Blondie's version is somewhat messy and they don't exactly give it justice). But then it's winner after winner. 'Happy Dog' is a groovy steamy blues-rocker, with Chris Stein dusting off the ancient "woman tone" and playing a bunch of the coolest guitar solos ever to a rhythm that's bluesy and funky at the same time, while Debbie squeezes the most out of her vocals and shows she still got it - 'Raise the flag of wag/Shake and shag/I wanna wag for ya baby!'. Add some slide guitars, wave upon wave of happy canine metaphors, and you're left with one of the weirdest songs in Blondie history. If we're onto roots-rock now, we might as well do a straightforward country song. 'The Dream's Lost On Me' is one, but they don't do it in half-measures: accordeons, violins, guitars, banjos, it's a fuckin' symphonic country orchestra going on as Debbie proudly proclaims that 'I come out shooting when trouble comes knocking/I greet bad news by sending it walking'. An anthemic and memorable and beautiful country waltz is something really rare for friggin' 1999, isn't it? Well, here it is. Then... whoops, we forgot about reggae. Is a Blondie album gonna be left without a reggae album? Nope, here comes 'Divine', punctuated with great bass, a simple, but moody synth line, and a simple, but moody guitar riff (laid over the basic reggae rhythm). Plus some vocal harmonies and a catchy vocal melody, and guess what, it ain't overproduced one single bit. And to top it all, here comes 'Dig Up The Conjo' which pretty much defies pigeonholing. Imagine a 'Tomorrow Never Knows' crossed with Lou Reed feedback and a chirpy poppy vocal melody and that's more or less what you get. If I had the gall to call this song 'psychedelic', I probably would. Well, hell, I'll do it. This is psychedelia, with the nod to 'Tomorrow Never Knows' as obvious as the fact that No Exit is a friggin' great album. The only reason why I deny it the highest rating is Debbie's poor singing on about a third of the tracks - yeah, I know she ain't guilty, and, moreover, I don't think anybody else should have sung these tracks instead, but that don't eliminate the problem. Other than that, it's more than a comeback. It's a triumphant comeback, and I sincerely hope they don't try to capitalize on that because there's just no way they could top it in their present state. I'll go as far as to say it's the best 1999 album I've heard, along with maybe Tom Waits' Mule Variations - which ain't saying all that much, me not being a specialist on Nineties music, but it ain't exactly saying all that little, either.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2003
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
And I know exactly what that curse is. Please read on.Best song: MAGIC (ASADOYA YUNTA)
Track listing: 1) Shakedown; 2) Good Boys; 3) Undone; 4) Golden Rod; 5) Rules For Living; 6) Background Melody (The Only One); 7) Magic (Asadoya Yunta); 8) End To End; 9) Hello Joe; 10) The Tingler; 11) Last One In The World; 12) Diamond Bridge; 13) Desire Brings Me Back; 14) Songs Of Love; [BONUS TRACK]: 15) Good Boys (single mix).
Did I just say "I sincerely hope they don't capitalize on that"? Speak o' the devil. No sooner had I put the finishing touches on that review that I found out Blondie have just released a new album. Aaarggh. There was no way they could top No Exit, of course, but it was up to them to make the follow-up memorable... they blew it.According to rumours, they actually started work on The Curse Of Blondie almost immediately after No Exit hit the shelves, but technical problems prevented them from going into the studio to make a final draft until recently - by which time they hooked up with 'fashionable' producer Steve Thompson who is the ruin of this record. Blondie have always been a talented, hard-working band, but one thing they had always depended upon, at least, from the days of Parallel Lines, was production. And where Mike Chapman was a generic, but tasteful typically-Seventies producer, this Thompson guy is a generic, typically Nineties, glossy, sticky-commercial kind of guy. Granted, the material that the band is offering right now is several levels less diverse and unpredictable than the stuff they scooped up on No Exit, but the main problem with it is the glitzy, lifeless sound it gets. And so, if No Exit was their "comeback a la Autoamerican", only better, then Curse is their downfall a la The Hunter. In other words, a lame, misguided attempt to 'keep up with the times', to update their trademark sound - or, rather, their trademark blend of sounds - by sacrificing any traces of uniqueness/freshness in favour of "that cool hip music" of the current MTV generation. The music is so horrendously processed you don't get to feel the instruments at all. Chris Stein's guitar, so directly felt on No Exit, is reduced to a spray of electronically enhanced, robotic noises - even if he does have a few solos, I sure as hell haven't been able to notice them. And even Clem Burke's abilities aren't paid any attention: at least they didn't have the nerve to replace him with drum machines, but I don't have a single exclamation point to put down about any of the Drum Related Thingies on here. What's the good news, then, if any? The good news are that the melodies - the vocal melodies, of course, but Blondie's main point has always been vocal melodies - are still first-rate. It takes a goddamn long time to isolate them, pick away the chaff and attune your ear so that it can concentrate on Debbie's crooning and neglect the sterile instrumental backing, but once that time is taken, I'm pressed to say I can't award the record anything less than a 10. Because, goddammit, it's chockful of good songs. It's not my fault these songs have been hogtied, brutalized, castrated, mutilated, and forced into abnormal sexual relations with today's MTV style, nor, I feel it, is this really the fault of the band members who - bless their souls - just wanted to get more hits. The "hit" in question, or, rather, the big single from the album (no idea how well it fares on the charts and I sure hope it flops - maybe that'll teach these pandering bastards a thing or two), has been 'Good Boys' - the one song not produced by Steve Thompson, actually, it makes Thompson's production look like Brian Eno's or Todd Rundgren's in comparison. There's a fine, hookish melody hidden in there, I tell you, creating an authentic New Romantic-era atmosphere, but the production is squishy, bland techno, layered with bubbling synths and generic power chords; even worse is the version of the song tacked onto the end - Giorgio Moroder's "single mix". Wait a minute... does that mean it's the Marauder version that gets all the airplay? Fuck this shit. Making a technopop band out of Blondie ranks up there with making an adult contemporary artist out of Eric Clapton, up there with making a "modern R'n'B" star out of Mick Jagger... in other words, a crime against humanity. Fortunately, fortunately, the rest of the album isn't quite as moronically dressed up. There's plenty of trip-hop and light techno and everything personality-depriving on here, yes, but on no other song do these things stand so right up in yer face as on 'Good Boys'. Although, granted, you do have to rip through yet another, and this time, rather pitiful attempt at posing as rap stars, on 'Shakedown' which matches repetitive chorus lines like 'Shakedown baby an' I wanna have to see what you're hiding in that body cavity' (cue tasteless dick joke from Mark Prindle here) with Debbie's traditional recitative that already sounds like a bad, bad, bad parody on 'Rapture'. Given that 'Shakedown' and 'Good Boys' initiate the album, the prospects look darker than dark, don't they? Well, it gets better. Maybe these two tracks are just destined to be Listening Post Filler, for your average music consumer to pick up the album and push the button and say 'Hey! This is rap! I likes me some rap!' and then push the button again and say 'Hey! That's techno! Techno's cool!' and then go and buy the record and return home and say 'Hey! Cool! I'm a Blondie fan!' and then go to Amazon.com and write "BLONDIE RULES THIS IS THE GREATEST ALBUM IN THEIR CAREER" even if he's never heard anything else by the band and in this way give me a good reason to write a sneering, dishonestly generalizing comment on The Average Music Consumer whom I've actually never known. Keep in mind that's only a hypothesis. The fact, though - and this is a fact - is that there's a difference between the first two songs and whatever follows. Whatever follows is standard poppy Blondie material with little diversity and, generally, very unpleasant production. Ballads and power-pop (or pop rockers, if there's a difference), all of them formulaic, but many of them catchy and vaguely atmospheric. Only one song stands apart, and that's a reworking of a traditional Okinowan folk song - 'Magic (Asadoya Yunta)'. This is good news, meaning that, contrary to rumour, the integration of Western pop with "world music" can still yield credible and enjoyable results. (Then again, it ain't exactly "true creativity", is it? This is "Western Man Steals Our Music"!). It's light, moody, catchy, and somehow even Debbie's husky voice sounds perfect in this setting. As the least formulaic and most honestly enjoyable entity, 'Magic' gets two thumbs up from me. The other songs... well, I won't be describing them. It was a gas to go through all the surprises and twists on No Exit, but here, all I can say is see for yourself. Lots of nostalgic lyrics (which is, of course, natural if we remember the Hunter analogy), lots of romance, some fun throwaway stuff... well... okay, I'll admit that the slow-paced loungey 'Songs Of Love' is a good album closer, with a moody "tired" sax part to back up the proceedings and a sincere twilight atmosphere to wind things up - but it's definitely no 'Dig Up The Conjo', ladies and gentlemen. I'll also admit that 'Golden Rod' and 'Last One In The World' rock pretty hard, but the extra slickness kills them off anyway. Which begs the eternal question of what the fuck is going on here? Have we gone full circle back to the days of the mid-Eighties, with all the 'oldies acts' abandoning their individual styles to dance a collective polka of love to faceless synth loops? Is this a tendency (Clapton, Jagger, now Blondie - all of whom had a "creative rebirth" sometime in the late Eighties/Nineties) or just a set of unrelated incidents? If it's the latter, then Blondie had better correct this mistake with a great album. And soon. And fire that son of a bitch.
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