In Blondie’s third album, Parallel Lines, the band drops the brooding artiness of its previous records and comes on like an ambitious pop-rock group. Or rather, a rock & roll band with an ambitious pop vocalist named Deborah Harry. In the past, Harry has always managed to make a virtue of her stiff, severe crooning, and her vocals complemented Blondie’s clipped, urban-raw playing. But the melodies were frequently lugubrious and much too involved with a Warholian despair that took the form of nonstop deadpan cheekiness. This cool demeanor provided some incredible pounding — Clem Burke’s drumming always carried the band beyond mere art rock — but never gave Blondie’s songs the jolt or hooks that Harry’s blank-slate singing seemed capable of delivering so well.
Throughout Parallel Lines, however, the hooks cascade and Harry belts them out with a new expressiveness. On pop roller coasters like “Pretty Baby” and “Sunday Girl,” her swoops and the simple guitar/drum backing reveal enthusiastic kids behind the pose of cynical artists. Producer Mike Chapman mixes the guitar of Chris Stein right up beside Deborah Harry’s voice, and each of these twelve short, pungent tunes builds to its own little epiphany of pop, from girl-group sass (“Pretty Baby”) to Rolling Stones seediness (“Just Go Away”). On “Sunday Girl,” you sense the smile that Harry never exposes in her publicity shots, and the song is a triumph of saucer-eyed hard rock. The singer’s cuteness has the bite of bitterness, while the perky melody is made ominous by the intensity of Stein’s lead guitar.
As if to drive home Blondie’s new range, “Sunday Girl” is followed by “Heart of Glass,” a mating of Kraftwerk and Donna Summer that adds humanity to the machinelike pace and steeliness to the imploring female narrator. And it’s this steeliness — this transcendence of all the romantic stereotypes Deborah Harry embraces — that makes Parallel Lines so continuously enjoyable and moving. Harry’s no longer the sexy zombie, and she won’t take any more abuse without showing contempt for her abusers. Her gritty “I’m gonna getcha” (in “One Way or Another”) and the entire sardonic dismissal of “Just Go Away” are witty flourishes that, in the course of this exhilarating LP, come to seem genuinely brave.