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Blondie

     Blondie (Chrysalis, 1976)
    Plastic Letters (Chrysalis, 1977)
      Parallel Lines (Chrysalis, 1978)
     Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis, 1979)
    Autoamerican (Chrysalis, 1980)
      Best of Blondie (Chrysalis, 1981)
   The Hunter (Chrysalis, 1982)
    No Exit (Beyond, 1999)
      Greatest Hits (Capitol, 2002)
   The Curse of Blondie (Sanctuary, 2004)

"Blondie Is a Group!" announced the ads for this New York band's first album, somewhat defensively. For once, the hype was correct, though lead singer and focal point Deborah Harry certainly had the ability to steal a spotlight—and hold on to it. One of the earliest punk bands, Blondie was pretty much a second-string act at CBGB until its debut album came out in late 1976. Harry, guitarist Chris Stein (also Harry's longtime boyfriend), and cohorts flaunt an enthusiasm for pop effluvia that's absolutely contagious. Surf music, girl groups, Motown, bubblegum, glitter rock, even a touch of heavy metal—everything gets boiled down into sweet little concoctions that release surprisingly complex, lasting pleasures. Eventually, Stein and Harry's devotion to the Bowie/Eno/Roxy Music school of art rock overwhelmed their pure pop impulses, but for a while, Blondie's stylistic experiments yielded impressive results. While Debbie Harry was hardly a punk antistar like Patti Smith, her sex symbolism exuded street smarts and a knowing sense of humor. Clearly, this woman was nobody's bimbo.

Blondie revels in the trashiest strains of Sixties pop, adding a dry Manhattan twist to "X Offender" and "Rip Her to Shreds." Plastic Letters, the followup, sounds rushed and hollow, though the catchy singles "Denis" and "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear" both tap into Harry's emotional reserves. Parallel Lines, recorded with an expanded lineup, represents a huge leap in musicianship and overall conception. From the dynamite rock & roll opener "Hanging on the Telephone" to the rock-disco cross-over "Heart of Glass," Blondie keeps the hooks—and ideas—coming fast. Eat to the Beat strives for the same natural balance, and comes surprisingly close.

You have to admire Blondie's artistic gumption. But by the time of Autoamerican, the band's eclecticism begins to diffuse. "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High" were classic singles, but Blondie's grasp of hip-hop and reggae wasn't nearly as strong as their hold on good ol' rock & roll. The end came in the early Eighties during Chris Stein's prolonged illness with a rare disease (he's since recovered): Blondie's last tour and album (The Hunter) were distracted, painful affairs.

Although it was nice to have the band back for No Exit, the album is clearly the work of a group that has lost some muscle. Only "Maria" signals a return to the deep, dangerous pop well of Blondie's youth; otherwise, the record fails to recapture the gorgeous possibilities the group was previously able to make out of the pop buffet. The band's old eclecticism returns on The Curse of Blondie—there's a rap-rock attempt, as well as some jazz—mostly to ill effect.

Greatest Hits is a fizzy delight—and a good place for the uninitiated to start. All of Blondie's Seventies and Eighties recordings have been released with uninteresting live tracks tacked on, but they show that, through Eat to the Beat, at least, Blondie came up with one revelation after another, tapping Sixties pop with such ferocious verve and goodwill that even the weirdest moments remain riveting.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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