Midwest BEAT Magazine - May 2004
The Curse Lingers On For At Least A Little Longer!
by Tom Lounges
photos by Eric Broms
If there was ever one band that perfectly epitomized the classic "New Wave" power-pop scene of the late 1970s, it was Blondie.
The New York band's proto-punk pop sound, high energy stage show, and a powerful visual image anchored by former Playboy bunny/model, Deborah Harry, made them the premiere group of their era and genre.
Their first album sound was rooted in the aggressive CBGB punk scene as songs like "Rip Her To Shreds" and "X-Offender" were as raw and rocking as anything the Ramones and other East Coast punks were kicking out at the time. But Blondie superceded that sound quickly, to become the first punk band to incorporate rap and disco into their style.
Their song "Rapture" is credited by most music historians and rock scribes as the first break-through rap song. Their "Heart Of Glass" was a bonefide disco dance smash, making Blondie the first punk rock band ever, to have their music subjected to remixing and release as a 12" vinyl single.
"We like to push the envelope and break down barriers," Harry once told this reporter during a 1980 interview at Chicago's Park West. "This group was never a preconceived idea. It grew and fed upon itself. It supported itself and I feel that the way it generates excitement will continue for me. There should always be room to experiment."
Nearly a quarter century later, Blondie are still experimenting with their music and sound, as made clear with one spin of their latest album, "The Curse Of Blondie," released last month in America via the Sanctuary Records imprint.
Opening the CD is a hip-hop rap dittie, "Shakedown," followed by a myriad of styles that range from a traditional Okinawan folk song - "Magic" (Asadoya Yunta)" - to the jazz-inflected ballads - "Desire Brings Me Back" and "Songs Of Love" - to some traditional pop fare typical of Blondie albums.
This 14-song set more than half recorded in New York City when the September 11th tragedy happened, according to Blondie co-founder and guitarist, Chris Stein. "It's been out in Europe for more than a year already," he added.
The Curse Of Blondie is more all over the board stylistically than was their impressive 1999 "comeback" album, No Exit, which returned them in a major way to U.S. radio air waves and record charts with the hit single, "Maria."
"I don't know that I was surprised," commented Stein about the out of the box success "Maria" received. "I've always been very optimistic. We were all very pleased that it all worked out so well and so easily. It may have spoiled us a little."
The rumors that Blondie only intended to make their reunion a temporary thing and that No Exit was planned as a one-off project were not true, according to Stein.
"We never said that," he stated. "We were always open to the idea of keeping it going. Our attitude has always been, whatever happens, happens. We work one day at a time. This band is like a 12-step program."
"Good Boys," their current single, is starting to get some play at both radio and in clubs. The song was co-authored by Harry and Kevin Griffin of the band Better Than Ezra.
"That song is kind of AOR format and that format doesn't really exist anymore at radio today. So I'm not sure where it will fit," said Stein. "But people do seem to be picking up on it."
Stein then got vocal about the sad state of radio today and praised the advent of XM channels where a very wide array of music is readily available to a rapidly growing number of people.
Stein added that he is even contemplating the possibility of someday hosting his own XM radio program in much the same was Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens has done.
"When I was growing up, I'd turn on the radio and hear all kinds of music by all kinds of artists," he guffed. "Today, you hear the same 20 songs played over and over. I think its all up to the satellite radio and internet radio companies now to break through."
Blondie are currently touring the U.S. Original drummer Clem Burke and keyboardist Jimmy Destri are back on board with Harry and Stein. Fleshing out the live sound are hired guns Leigh Foxx on bass and guitarist Paul Carbona, who both played on the new album.
As for original Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison being M.I.A., Stein comments - "We tried working with Nigel and it just wasn't working out. Leigh is a much better player and has heavier chops."
The group is playing House of Blues here in Chicago on May 2 and Stein said that is about the size of most venues they are hitting on this tour. Just as they did while touring behind No Exit, while riding the radio wave that carried "Maria" into the top part of the charts.
"I don't know if we'll get into bigger places or not," he said. "The first time around [in the 1970s] it took like two or three records for things to break for this band in the U.S. Then suddenly we got a lot of attention from radio and TV media and things took off for us. Things have picked up really rapidly here lately, so maybe the same pattern will repeat itself and we'll get that second round break here in the States... we'll just have to wait and see how this album does."
A half dozen songs from The Curse Of Blondie are included in the band's live set. "When we do older songs like "Hanging On The Telephone," it's kinda blank for me. I count on the audience response to those songs to get me emotionally involved. Playing new songs is much more exciting. Hard core fans already know all the new songs, because they bought the import a year ago. We see them mouthing the lyrics and that is kinda cool."
BLONDIE perform on Sunday, May 2 at House Of Blues in Chicago.