If Plastic Letters were a movie, it would be an American International production. Grade B all the way, its effect is blatant and immediate. For Blondie, garishness is next to godliness — and, if the impact doesn’t last, it’s partly because listening to most of these songs is about as predictably provocative as turning the pages of the National Enquirer.
This album’s trashiness is a bit too studied, its mania a little too high-pitched. The tone of Deborah Harry’s voice, a shocking-pink wail that at once embodies and parodies the come-on of an ersatz ingenue, never changes. But, by the second side, her moves — that husky whisper in your ear, the ingenuous catch at the back of her throat, that raised eyebrow and the I’m-ready-to-do-anything challenge — lose their mystery, and she begins telegraphing her best lines.
Blondie (reduced now to four members) still cops from a variety of sources: girl groups, the Ventures — it doesn’t matter as long as it’s rock & roll at its most melodramatic. But, while the musicians are more sophisticated than on their first LP, Blondie, they continue to give the impression that this is a one-idea band. Harry and cohorts haven’t gone to seediness, they celebrate it. “Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45),” “Youth Nabbed as Sniper” and “Contact in Red Square” (even the titles scream headlines) display the jangled nerves and soap-opera self-absorption of good drugstore novels and tabloids. But when the group turns its attention to rock & roll (“I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No,” “Love at the Pier”), you’ve heard it all before — on the first album. Thrills come cheap, but they shouldn’t come this cheaply.