e couldn't think of a better time than the release of our A FEW GOOD WOMEN issue to give it up for one of pop music's great architects. The band BLONDIE and it's front woman DEBORAH HARRY have made a name for themselves by being at the forefront of pop music and culture. Armed with the barest of a equipment and a surplus of style and attitude, the band set the standard for the pop aesthetic that many artists today to still cling to. From the power pop of songs like X-OFFENDER, DREAMING and I AM TOUCHED BY YOUR PRESENCE DEAR to the dance rock if HEART OF GLASS and CALL ME to the reggae of TIDE IS HIGH and the hip hop sounds of songs like RAPTURE, the band proved themselves to be an interchangeable beast in the way of sound and style and in this issue we take you through that incredible musical journey by reviewing every BLONDIE and DEBORAH HARRY album.RELATED LiNKS:
The refuse, grit and grime of the New York Bowery scene was the breeding ground for a cultural and musical revolution of which artists such as PATTI SMITH, THE RAMONES, and TELEVISON were the luminaries. BLONDIE was the bottom of the line with their throw back sixties pop pastiche and lead singer DEBORAH HARRY's plucky, playful delivery and stage presence which dripped with droll and the sort of sexiness that made MARILYN MONROE a star. Yes, pop glory was the name of BLONDIE's game and it didn't stand a chance against SMITH's Baudelarian approach to rock n roll or the piss and vinegar demonstrated by THE RAMONES and their rapid fire sets. No wonder BLONDIE was the last band on the scene to get signed. The PRIVATE STOCK label was no ARISTA but they heard something as did producer RICHARD GOTTEHRER - the man behind such classic pop stompers as MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, HANG ON SLOOPY and I WANT CANDY. It's clear from the get go that pop anthems were going to rule the day for this band on their debut album and beyond and X - OFFENDER served as the clarion call with it's PHIL SPECTOR-ish drum claps, HARRY's saucy delivery and JIMMY DESTRI's melodramatic, yearning organ sounds (which strangely don't sound too disimilar from the opening riff of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's BORN TO RUN). It was funny how a song about getting arrested couldn't get them arrested but the slow burn of that single's b-side IN THE FLESH managesd to make the band a massive hit in Australia with it's oohs and ahs and CLEM BURKES pop smarts on the drums. LOOK GOOD IN BLUE is a moog-y, psychedelic little dittie which gives the band it's best double entendre "I can give you some head and shoulders to lie on." Pop music of this variety has always been full of female jealousy but thanks to BLONDIE we get a real cat fight with RIP HER TO SHREDS - a bitchy, scrappy tune built on a strutting VELVET UNDERGROUND-styled riff.The surf rock of RIFLE RANGE sums up the bands agenda of mixing vintage pop sounds with a modern day angst while MAN OVERBOARD shows the band embracing the disco sound that bands of their ilk seemed to all too eager to dismiss. Trust us. The bands foray into dance music would be better executed on future releases. All of the fun concludes with the apocalyptic conga groove of ATTACK OF THE GIANT ANTS which goes off into an epic GEORGE PAL-esque climax. It's hard to believe that this album has been able to maintain it's sonic and aethestic charm forty years after it's release and sound as a fresh as anything that is getting released today. This was an amazing launching ground for a band that didn't stand a chance but would eventually find themselves at the top of the pop world.
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Here is where CHRYSALIS RECORDS came in and snatched DEBBIE and the boys up. Bassist GARY VALENTINE is no longer a member at this point but his song (I'M ALWAYS) TOUCHED BY YOUR PRESENCE (DEAR) steals the show on an album that more than delivers on the high camp but comes up a little short on the pop smarts that made the first album so damned promising. Of course that's not say that there isn't a gem here and a moment there that makes this sophomore effort worth the while. The band's cover of THE RANDY AND THE RAINBOWS hit DENISE (gender swapped and re-nicked DENIS with a french pronunciation) had what it took break the band into the international market in a big way becoming a top ten hit throughout much of Europe and and number 2 hit in the UK. But unlike some of the finer moments on the band's self-titled debut, the uninspired dittie simply hasn't aged well. The album's opener FAN MAIL shows DESTRI growing more and more ambitious with his keyboard set up. His space age moog on this band's autobiographical track takes off into orbit at the expense of having a front woman like HARRY playing catch up with him. A page has definitely been ripped from MANFRED MANN's EARTH BAND's hit rendition of BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. YOUTH NABBED AS SNIPER takes things back to the streets for the band and HARRY's tough girl persona gets added dimension with the lyric "I can hide us far from sight, but you must wait and I must fight this nothingness". DETROIT 442 showcases the same sort of gallows humor as SNIPER where our heroine has got to find a way out of the conformity of her "concrete factory" town. NO IMAGINATION is BLONDIE's first torchy, piano ballad but you can expect more comic observations of a dull, vacant lover than any thing heartfelt. And that's not a bad thing. The albums closer CAUTIOUS LIP revisits the psychedelia of a track like LOOK GOOD IN BLUE from the first album and slows it down to hypnotizing, sexy, stripper's crawl.
RICHARD GOTTEHRER took the band as far as he could which is saying a ton given BLONDIE's success abroad. Only in the States did the band band have trouble getting the airplay, the television appearances and the record sales they so richly deserved in that mahogany-tinted musical landscape populated by disco and the THE EAGLES. CHRYSALIS handed BLONDIE's musical reins over to producer MIKE CHAPMAN and the results yieleded pop gold. The album was recorded on 24 tracks and not one single track was wasted and the proof of that is onthe albums glittering jewel HEART OF GLASS - a long time un-recorded "Disco Song" that now pulsates with the sort of joie de vivre worthy of KRAFTWERK. This was the ultimate middle finger to the DISCO SUCKS crowd. In the States, the band had found their audience but more importantly, they had released an album that would set the pop music standard for the decade to come. Sure it took an outsider like CHAPMAN to whip the bnd int to true FM radio shape but it was done without sacrificing any of the band's innate pop smarts or artistic edge. Sure, the campiness isn't out in full force but the tongue was still firmly planted in cheek. The result of MIKE CHAPMAN's divine intervention was punk/new wave's first true crossover success story complete with angst (HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE), desperation (ONE WAY OR ANOTHER), kink (PICTURE THIS) and all out ecstacy (HEART OF GLASS). These delectable pop gems mixed with HARRY's ass kicking peroxided allure is one of the greatest packages in rock history - a package that is still a winning formula 39 years after the fact.
In our humble opinion the eighties officially began with the release of the glorious anthem DREAMING. HARRY chimes enthusiastically of a new love found as CLEM BURKE tears feverishly into his PREMIER drum kit while JIMMY DESTRI's keyboards soar victoriously over the raucous proceedings. In 1979 it was time for the band to issue a follow up so they hit the studio with MIKE CHAPMAN once again to work on what would become their fourth studio album EAT TO THE BEAT. PARALLEL LINES may be the go-to album for many but EAT TO THE BEAT was certainly no ugly stepchild. In fact , what you hear on this album is a band that is on top of the world. The band's ace musicianship - which was finely honed thanks to MIKE CHAPMAN in the PARALLEL LINES sessions - sounds much more assured in the EAT TO THE BEAT sessions. Sure the album has a few clunkers such as the sleep-inducing SOUND-A-SLEEP, the repetitive and directionless anthem UNION CITY BLUE and the rabble rousing bullshit of VICTOR but the rest of it is a balls-to-the-wall pop rock tour de force. THE HARDEST PART is dance rock at it's finest. This stomping tale of a bank robbery is armed with rapturous groove brought to you by BURKE and bassist NIGEL HARRISON. The track goes off into the stratosphere with FRANK INFANTE's incendiary guitar solo. While HARRY's performance is equally as enthusiastic it's the boys who steal the show proving that BLONDIE was indeed a group. SHAYLA is a moody ROY ORBISON-styled ballad that opens up with a haunting jangly guitar and segues into a moderate driving rhythm where NIGEL HARRISON's bass dominates as does HARRY's ethereal coo. A stunning a surprisingly emotional performance from HARRY and the boys. ACCIDENTS NEVER HAPPEN establishes itself for a few measures on an insistent guitar riff and BURKE's carefully punctuated kick drum before HARRY comes in a teases the listener with lyrics about a lust so intense that there is no way that she and the object of her affection could've been brought together by accident. As the track grows louder so does the determination of a woman who knows what she wants. A whole year before the release of THE TIDE IS HIGH and the reggae groove of DIE YOUNG STAY PRETTY is tighter and way more tantalizing. Sure the title itself may have prevented the little number about fast living from being a single but it's a fine moment for the band with DEBBIE and the boys doing call-and-response verses JIMMY DESTRI's B3 Hammond organ - or something that sounds like it.
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And you thought the love fest was going to last forever! The first few measures of the opening orchestral track EUROPA will have those not in the know thinking that they're listening to the wrong album. Back in 1981, I was guilty of the same thing. This one has been called BLONDIE's WHITE ALBUM and 37 years later, it no longer deserves the critical lashing it received. In fact, the band and the album deserve a kind of recognition, plaque, medal or ribbon for producing such a kaliedoscopic listen filled with unexpected twists and turns in the way of genre exercise. Up to this point BLONDIE had proven themselves to be able-bodied at delivering the disco/dance-rock goods but LIVE IT UP sounds more like a pastiche to disco than the real thing as the lackluster stomper relies too heavily on the same groove laid down by THE TRAMPS' DISCO INFERNO years earlier. Unlike HEART OF GLASS, this disco certainly did suck. Adding to the disorientation is a 20's pop tribute written by DEBBIE and CHRIS called HERE's LOOKING AT YOU - a cheeky examination of the ups and downs of love and drink. It's a curious confection that actually works. The album is most remembered for the calypso gaiety of THE TIDE IS HIGH and the kindred hip hop exercise RAPTURE. Both songs reached number one adding to the bands reputation as hitmakers and HARRY's celebrity status. 37 years on, RAPTURE's irresistible groove still resonates despite the cute but clumsy white-girl rap about a man from Mars. TIDE lacks the sort of punch that the previous album's DIE YOUNG STAY PRETTY delivered but it's heavy on the kind of charm and simplicity that distinguishes a pop classic from all else. The band continues their experimentation with the jazz combo FACES - a haunting portrait of the life of a vagrant where HARRY proves what she is made of as a vocalist. For those not too keen on the band mixing it up in this fashion, they can be assured the band's pop rock smarts haven't been abandoned entirely thanks to the ethereal pop of ANGELS ON THE BALCONY and the spiky surf rock of the penultimate track WALK LIKE ME, both provided by JIMMY DESTRI. Sadly, this curious entry in the BLONDIE catalog goes out with a whimper with an anemic cover of LERNER and LOEWE's FOLLOW ME from CAMELOT. At the tracks close a voice can be heard saying. "This isn't going on the record, is it?" We wished it hadn't.
AUTOAMERICAN delivered the goods in the way of two number one singles and DEBORAH HARRY became the face of the new decade. Perhaps it was time to go solo. It seemed like the only way for Ms. HARRY to go as her profile eclipsed that of her bandmates and her music making with guitarist and partner CHRIS STEIN had gained considerable market value. With that being said, the teaming of HARRY and STEIN with CHIC's NILE RODGERS and BERNARD EDWARDS should've been a hoot commercially and artistically. Sadly, all we were left with as one promising track in the thumping THE JAM WAS MOVING and some fascinating conceptual art brought to us by H.R. GIGER of ALIEN fame. One could blame it on the fact that the album was released while RAPTURE was still a hit but KOO KOO's weakness is the songs which suffer from under development and a very tin-y sounding overall mix. The single BACKFIRED finds HARRY and her new comprades delving into R&B and funk yet come up short against as what could be heard on RAPTURE. The faerie dust that NILE and BERNARD used to re-enliven DIANA ROSS' music career a year earlier with songs like I'M COMING OUT and UPSIDE DOWN does nothing for HARRY and the album is simply one perfunctory musical exercise after another with a very cool album cover. There is no hint here of the dynamics that a producer like NILE RODGERS would later bring to such artists as DAVID BOWIE, MADONNA , DURAN DURAN or THE B-52s. We'd call this a case of style over substance but musically there isn't much style or refinement.
The advent of MTV made music a more visual affair and that shouldn't have been a problem for BLONDIE. They almost single-handedly led the charge in mixing visuals with music but in 1982 that other CHRYSALIS siren PAT BENATAR was delivering the rock n roll punch in a way that was more palatable to a mainstream American audience. Clearly palatability wasn't something BLONDIE had in mind given the obligatory feel of this album. The pretenses of AUTOAMERICAN and KOO KOO bleed into these proceedings starting with ORCHID CLUB - a drum-led, murky ISLAND OF DR. MORREAU-ish tale of a love lost with no evidence left behind ot point the way. The band continues their exploration of the calypso rhythm with the carnival horror of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. This time they trade the simplicity of THE TIDE IS HIGH for an instrusive brass section and a bunch of mumbo jumbo lyrics. DRAGONFLY is a point-by-point bulletin of an interglactic space race in which the starship DRAGONFLY comes out on top. The curious track brings to mind the high camp of the TV series BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY. While definitely not a single, the song is a fun listen on an album where we will take the fun anywhere we can get it. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY was an unwanted JAMES BOND song that exhibits the minor progresion and the bombast of all of the great BOND themes that have come before it. We're thinking the thing could've worked. WARCHILD is a dance rock extravaganza about the refugee life where the brass section proves useful in propelling the decadent number to dizzying heights. Unfortunately, the subject matter isn't the stuff of pop gold. Especially during the Falklands War. Just when you think that HARRY and STEIN's artistic and lyrical reach had gone too damn far, we've got good old JIMMY DESTRI to bring us back to what made BLONDIE great in the first place with his joyous, MOTOWN-styled stomper DANCEWAY. Just when the album finds it's levity with that song and the gentle JOHN LENNON tribute ENGLISH BOYS, it closes with a chilling cover of THE HUNTER (GETS CAPTURED BY THE GAME). HARRY breathing the line "Ooh my plan didn't work out like a tought" has an eerie resonance that seemed to sum up the band's affairs. This wasn't the ending that one of the greatest bands in pop music deserved.
In the time since the release of THE HUNTER , DEBORAH HARRY had performed one of the greatest vanishing acts in pop music history. Much of that hiatus was due to her taking care of an ailing CHRIS STEIN (we don't need to get into that, do we?) and finding an identity outside of BLONDIE. She managed to pop up subliminally throughout the early-eighties. She teamed with GIORGIO MORODER once again for the electropop delight RUSH RUSH from the SCARFACE soundtrack. She also lent her coo to the bouncey dance track FEEL THE SPIN for the film KRUSH GROOVE. And who could forget her turn as the masochistic red head NIKKI BRAND in DAVID CRONENBERG's shocker VIDEODROME? Ten years after the release of BLONDIE's debut album HARRY and STEIN let everyone know that they were still in the game despite a musical environment where MADONNA reigned supreme. On ROCKBIRD, HARRY returns to the trashy pop aesthetic of early BLONDIE with producer SETH JUSTMAN (keyboardist for J. GEILS BAND) providing the gloss and fizz. However the results are less than effervescent. Of all of the output by BLONDIE and HARRY combined, ROCKBIRD has aged the worst and such 80's cotton candy as FRENCK KISSIN (written by CHUCK LORRE - the producer of TWO AND A HALF MEN) doesn't help matters. Neither does IN LOVE WITH LOVE - a by-the-numbers 80's dance track that not even a STOCK, AITKEN & WATERMAN remix could save. The GENE PITNEY- styled ballad FREE TO FALL stands out by a mile with it's haunting melody and the very word play that STEIN and HARRY were masters of in their prime. Their partnership with NILE RODGERS and BERNARD EDWARD on KOO KOO didn't generate any sparks but on the album's final track BEYOND THE LIMIT, the conglomerate finally have a meeting of the minds and generate some fucking electricity five years after the fact. It was better late than never but it wasn't enough to elevate this album from being just a curious find at a vinyl shop for the right price.
We're just going ot come out and say it. DEF DUMB AND BLONDE is better than any DEBORAH HARRY or BLONDIE album that has come after it. Whether that has something to do with HARRY and STEIN re-igniting their relationship with MIKE CHAPMAN on a few of the tracks or simply due to the duo wanting to recapture former glory is anybody's guess. Needless to say, in the age of MADONNA where BLONDIE's legacy and influence had diminished, DEF DUMB AND BLONDE is nothing short of a miracle. Of course we can expect a bit of late eighties fat with the first single I WANT THAT MAN (co-written and produced by the THOMPSON TWINS) but the rest of the album has HARRY sounding inspired once again. The pop smarts are in full effect on the PRINCE tribute KISS IT BETTER and the delectable SWEET AND LOW which showcases HARRY's teasing delivery and play on words. MAYBE FOR SURE is a retooling of a rocker from the 1983 animated film ROCK N RULE and the results are ecclesiastic. One can almost hear this pop rock gem on PARALLEL LINES or EAT TO THE BEAT. It probably should've been a single. Even signs of HARRY's Bowery past show up in the punk charged tracks COMIC BOOKS and FORCED TO LIVE - the latter of which is a harrowing tale of a man dying of AIDS. The album comes to a somber but glorious end with the autumnal, spoken word ballad THE END OF THE RUN which tells of glory days that have come and gone. The lines "Once that tape starts playing/It's too hard to make it rewind" seem clunky on the page but when HARRY puts her oompf into it, the point is driven home and hard. You may even feel a lump in your throat.
Oh the nineties were a confusing time! It was a time when grunge and it's shabby look ruled the day and you had folks like BILLY IDOL coming up with that CYBERPUNK crap and sporting peroxided dreadlocks. And then you had DEBORAH HARRY - the quintessential bottle blonde - going au nautrale and turning in an exercise in style over substance like DEBRAVATION. The only hard evidence of the playful schtick that had come to typify BLONDIE and Ms. HARRY at her best was the rock steady reggae of STABILITY and the full throttle punk pop of STANDING IN MY WAY. The album continues the trend of pushing the wrong single. The dance pop of I CAN SEE CLEARLY sounds behind the times and probably would've been better served on the FLASHDANCE soundtrack ten years earlier. The jazzy slowburner STRIKE ME PINK fares much better and shows the leaps and bounds that HARRY has made as a vocalist. Her seductive pur is put to fine use. DOG STAR GIRL - a disorienting, cyberpunk-inspired tune penned by STEIN and sci-fi author WILLIAM GIBSON demonstrates HARRY's adventurous spirit on an album that could've used more of the woman's signature bite. The rest of the album reaks of major label compromise such as COMMUNION which goes for the sex meets religion angle of MADONNA's LIKE A PRAYER but come off banal and uncharacteristic of the singer as we've come to know her. The tropical triteness of KEEP ON GOING sounds like a contender for a direct-to-video LITTLE MERMAID sequel. In the nineties, everything that was old was new again and we had just had a feeling that a re-emergence of BLONDIE was only going to be a matter of time.
The muted power chords that kick off MARIA are more than just a common sense way to get a good power pop number going. It's a fucking revelation! When the BLONDIE reunion was announced back in late 1996 any enthusiasm that was felt was tempered by HARRY's checkered past as a solo artist. With members FRANK INFANTE and NIGEL HARRISON cast aside, would the reunion be nothing more than a DEBORAH HARRY solo offering in BLONDIE clothing? Thankfully the power pop perfection of MARIA put those fears to rest. Released in the Fall of 1998, this joyous single made NO EXIT something to look forward to. Producer CRAIG LEON keeps things simple and direct on this new outing which kicks off with the car hopping ska of SCREAMING SKIN. Whether it was a statement of CHRIS STEIN's physical deterioration years ago or simply the very sci-fi lyrical excercise that plagued an album like THE HUNTER, we could simply bang our heads to the proceedings and be grateful that the band sounds like a band again. DOUBLE TAKE is the only song credited solely to HARRY and STEIN and the slowburner puts the former STRIKE ME PINK to shame with HARRY's irresitable word play and CANDY DULFER's mesmerizing saxophone. NOTHING IS REAL BUT THE GIRL is another power pop rocker recalling the PLASTIC LETTER days and like MARIA is a contribution from JIMMY DESTRI. A trip-hopped cover of the SHANGRI-LA's OUT IN THE STREETS is about as late-nineties pop as this album gets and possibly could've been a single but unfortunately a stink had to be raised about the band's teaming up with rapper COOLIO on the rap-metal title track. Trust us when we say the teaming is not entirely a disaster. HARRY has learned a bit about issuing some rhymes and it shows that the band wasn't afraid to be current. The problem is it all comes off like an overwrought ploy to get folks talking again. Other tracks fare worse such as the uninspired dance pop of FORGIVE AND FORGET and the humdrum ballad NIGHT WIND SENT which features such dubious lyrical craft as "In the silence of your steps/I can see into the depths." Even a few curious habits picked up from the AUTOAMERICAN sessions show up in the form of the jazz-tinged BOOM BOOM INTHE ZOOM ZOOM ROOM where HARRY shows what she's learned from her tenure with the JAZZ PASSENGERS and the campy country ballad THE DREAMS LOST ON ME which manages to go for the heart, even if that may not have been the intention.
The band deserves special recognition for not taking the FLEETWOOD MAC/EAGLES approach to pulling off a comeboack by recording a glossy live performance complete with uninspired renditions of the old hits. Sure, NO EXIT wasn't the most inspired affair but for a band to come back after 17 years with an album of new stuff spoke volumes about BLONDIE's desire to proceed with the story. But with hindsight being what it is in a retrospective like this, THE CURSE OF BLONDIE is the album that should've been the band's comeback. Things don't start promisingly as the album kicks off with another rap-metal clunker in SHAKEDOWN which has HARRY sounding like the old lady rapping RAPPER'S DELIGHT from THE WEDDING SINGER. However the party really gets started with the thumping dance rock single GOOD BOYS. The pulsating track haunts with it's minor progression, icy keyboards, spiky guitar riff and HARRY's kittenish delivery and stands out as one of the finest single moments from the band. Unfortunately due to BEYOND RECORDS folding and some complications with distribution, the song never became the massive hit it deserved to become. The band would never rock as hard again as they do on the scorching GOLDENROD. When we aren't banging our heads to this one we think we hear something of an autobiography but then we just start banging our heads again. The dance rock of UNDONE recalls the days of HEART OF GLASS and DREAMING and would've been a fine second single. Sure it's "La, la, la, la, la, la" hook is coy as hell but it's coyness resembles that of the spoken word intro of X-OFFENDER. RULES FOR LIVING demonstrates DESTRI's value to the band. The haunting ballad takes an existential look at love and life and manages to sum up BLONDIE's story with the chorus "I've been this way before/ I'll come this way again" At fifteen songs, the albums weakness is pure filler such as BACKGROUND MELODY which comes right after LIVING with a similar rhythm and not much of a difference in key. MAGIC drones on as well and the fact that it is a take on an Okinawan folk song doesn't make it go faster. END TO END is built on the same riff as CALL ME but has none of the thrills or the punch of the original. Given the fact that HELLO JOE was a tribute to JOEY RAMONE one would've expected a band from the CBGB's gauntlet to make a rip-roaring punk moment out of it. Instead, the song chirps along unmemorably with programmed drumming and the strumming of an acoustic guitar. The fun doesn't start again until THE TINGLER - an unashamed, bouncey dance number which we could've heard on a soundtrack for a film like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. THE LAST ONE IN THE WORLD demonstrates the band's apocalyptic metal side and coming out two years after 9/11, it's got an eerie resonance. This album certainly specialized in filling the running time up with numbers that were just supposed to float by the listener so when we get a what-the-fuck moment like the boho-jazz-stoner DESIRE BRINGS ME BACK we are laughing along gleefuly with the band. If they had just cut five songs in the middle they would've had a classic on their hands.
Who needed a DEBORAH HARRY album in a time when BLONDIE was already back on the scene? The woman's solo efforts yielded a dearth of the delights that are bountiful on a BLONDIE release that is done right. Only 1989's DEF DUMB AND BLONDE came close to competing with BLONDIE's pop glory but with NECESSARY EVIL, HARRY - for the first time in her solo career - emerges as an entity outside of her famous band and the results actually satisfy. Here, HARRY is given a punchy, electropop sound thanks to production team SUPER BUDDHA and HARRY takes to it like a kitten with a ball of yarn. Okay, so TWO TIMES BLUE does owe something to the BLONDIE sound but unlike previous releases, this lead single made sense. It's built on the same driving pop rock riff as MARIA but instead of building up to a glorious chorus, it's the verses that steal the day. The DEEP END is an echo-y electro stomper on living life on the edge and recalls her work with THE HEADS (comprised of the members of TALKING HEADS sans DAVID BYRNE) back in 1994. To us, it would've made more sense to have that one be the second single as aopposed to IF I HAD YOU - an uncharacteristic pop ballad which was probably at the bottom of the heap of music submissions sent to KELLY CLARKSON. On the flipside, WHAT IS LOVE? is a ballad done right and filled with the sort of lyrical instincts that we've come love the woman for. And it comes complete with Lovecraft-ian chanting in the breakdown. The most fun on the album can be had with YOU'RE TOO HOT - a pep rally styed stomper with just six words that will make anyone forget about STEFANI's HOLLABACK GIRL bullshit. And since we brought STEFANI up we may as well add that NECESSARY EVIL is the LOVE ANGEL MUSIC BABY for the older set. Continuing this strange journey is HARRY's latest foray into hip hop DIRTY AND DEEP which has the woman paying tribute to a then-incarcerated LIL KIM and the effort comes off cool and confidant. WHITE OUT is an IGGY POP inspired electro rocker showcasing HARRY's still-considerable punk rock fangs and CHARM ALARM teams HARRY with long time commrade MISS GUY (of THE TOILET BOYS) celebrating the very "glamour, damage, seduction and piss elegeance " that make this album a most surprising and enjoyable entry.
These guys had us on a roll with the first two post-reunion albums. Even HARRY managed to prove her solo effort NECESSARY EVIL to be a most welcomed affair. In the years since THE CURSE OF BLONDIE the band kicked keyboardist JIMMY DESTRI to the curb and their legacy had reached monument status with their induction in to the ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME. In true punk rock fashion, the induction was a chaotic affair with drunken input from embittered ex-members FRANK INFANTE and NIGEL HARRISON. When PANIC OF GIRLS was announced, it was curious to note that the album was not getting a release through a record company but was coming out exclusively through AMAZON. With delay after delay, PANIC OF GIRLS saw the light of day and upon it's roll out, it was easy to hear why no label seized this opportunity. The album was recorded in Woodstock, New York and that's one reason for the albums lack of signature bite. The other reason is the notable absense of JIMMY DESTRI who proved the be the revamped BLONDIE's greatest asset. It's an absense that is deeply felt on an album filled with pallid new wave numbers (WHAT I HEARD, MOTHER, LOVE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME), sleep-inducing reggae (THE END TH END, SUNDAY SMILE) and the curious musical excursions (LE BLEU, MIRAME) that BLONDIE have wanted an audience to notice since AUTOAMERICAN. Not even the dance music is any good here. WIPE OFF MY SWEAT is an unremarkable latin disco number that doesn't even sound worthy of PATRICK HERNANDEZ. And don't get us started on it's annoying "Papi, papi" chorus. Only the opening electro rocker D-DAY and the closing STONE-sy ballad CHINA SHOES (penned by HARRY and STEIN) come out on top. What was the point? Nostalgia? This album has these hall of famers sounding a like a second rate BLONDIE-imitation from 1982 and the sad part is that there is no DESTRI to come and save the day.
We'll address the superfluous packaging that overwhelmed the rather fine GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD before we do anything else. Whoever is handling BLONDIE's affairs thought it wise to make a big deal out of 2014 being the band's 40th aniversary, even though 2016 would mark the release of the band's debut album. This re-packaging was called BLONDIE 4.0 EVER which coupled the album GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD with a disc of re-recordings of BLONDIE hits called BLONDIE GREATEST HITS REDUX and to say that these songs are re-recordings is going a little too far. They sound like karaoke performances with DEBORAH HARRY's aged and auto-tuned voice at the forefront as well as some new keyboard flourishes. We all know the story of the band trying to take their rights to these pop classics back and if you hear it ona commercial spot for H&M you hardly notice it. But here we do and the collection is really only worth one spin ( provided of course you're actually listenting to this thing on CD). After the band's anemic release PANIC OF GIRLS three years earlier, the band's future seemed shakier than ever, but the band turned around and did what they often do, which is surprise the hell out of us. EDM rules the day on GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD and coming from these august hall-of-famers, it sounds like new ground is being broken even if it ain't. What has us happy is that the eletronic soundscape gives HARRY a chance to be playful again in a way that she wasn't on PANIC. And yes, the band has extended the songwriting to outsiders but with the absense of JIMMY DESTRI that's just common sense and the results have BLONDIE sounding adventurous and risk-taking once again and no longer having to rely on the genre-hopping which had yielded some iffy results since AUTOAMAERICAN. The first sign that the party was open to everyone was the release of the first single A ROSE BY ANY NAME - a sumptious dance track provided by new keyboardist MATT KATZ-BOHEN featuring BETH DITTO of THE GOSSIP on the co-lead. However it's RAVE that steals the show boasting the sort of glamorous, dance rock glory that BLONDIE always did best yet was noticeably absent on their previous effort. Despite an intrusive, lead weight vocal performance by MISS GUY onthe chorus the thumping track chugs along enthusiastically and there is just no stopping the train.
I'm sure we've all heard that old saying: "You can't go home again!" and that seemed especially true for BLONDIE. In the past couple of albums, they jettisoned a founding member, relegated more of the writing to new members like keyboardist MATT KATZ-BOHEN and seemed disinterested in returning to the halcyon days of PARALLEL LINES. Their 2014 album GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD, should've given folks enough of a clue that CHRIS and DEBBIE were favoring the more electronic aesthetic of the day's pop radio, and their pursuit of that sound was an earnest one. Why some of the more thumping tracks on that album never made it to pop radio is one hell of an argument for the fact that ageism is real. Such a fucking tragedy! On the heals of the release of ...DOWNLOAD, the band announced work of on a new album. Despite shaky critical responses to ...DOWNLOAD, these august punk rockers were not going to be deterred. Was POLLINATOR to be a middle finger to the punk purists and to the those who favored the band's effervesecent pop charms? Thankfully no. POLLINATOR is the return to classic BLONDIE that fans and critics have been waiting for but don't thank CHRIS and DEBBIE entirely. Thank the contributions of songwriters like SIA, CHARLIE XCX, JOHNNY MARR and DEV HYNES. CHRIS and DEBBIE are back to their old sweet selves on the rebellious punk rocker DOOM OR DESTINY (featuring JOAN JETT) and the trip-hopped, brass-charged LOVEL LEVEL which proves she can still tear a chump down to size. "Everyone can see/ That You've got inches on me/ But whe we're lying down/ The difference diminishes" LONG TIME rides the same dance beat and key as HEART OF GLASS yet comes off fresh and the disco stomper FUN, could've ridden side by side with any of the band's hey day hits. Bringing this surprising album to a close is the incendiary FRAGMENTS. (an UN-KINDNESS cover.) I may have to take back what I said about HARRY's 1989 album DEF DUMB AND BLONDE being the better than any BLONDIE album that has come after it. With POLLINATOR, the band is right where they ought to be artistically. For now, all has been quiet on the BLONDIE front. We just hope the silence won't last forever.
BRiAN LUSH (FOUNDER, EDiTOR-iN-CHiEF)
CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: firstname.lastname@example.org