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reviewjournal - 7th December 2007
INTERVIEWS: Flying Solo
Deborah Harry flexes her creativity on new album, 'Necessary Evil'
By MIKE WEATHERFORD
Deborah Harry or Madonna? Who outside of a drinking game would force such a choice?
Perhaps, say, a record label?
Harry's pre-MTV look and new-wave style gave Madonna a road map. But Harry says that later on, two of her solo albums suffered from both singers' being on the same label. "I was up against Madonna, who was (the Sire label's) premier artist, and everything I put out was pushed to the back burner because she was so hot," she says.
Time has reinforced the popular choice between the two fashion-setting pop singers. Madonna continues to be a big-ticket arena draw, while the Blondie frontwoman plays Saturday in the Chrome showroom at Santa Fe Station.
But fans who always felt Harry was the more authentically cool of the two can take pride in her new album. "Necessary Evil," the singer's first solo effort in 14 years, is familiar yet modern. Harry's songwriting, some of it in collaboration with Blondie partner Chris Stein, gets modern production twists from the Super Buddha team of Barb Morrison and Charles Neiland.
"I just wrote songs that I felt were relevant to me now. The most important thing for me was to do something very current," says the 62-year-old singer. "I felt it was more about me today than just living in the past all the time. I'm not really a huge fan of nostalgia. Being creative to me is like life. You really have to continue and keep cooking, as it were."
The songs were written and recorded between breaks on the Blondie reunion tours that visited the Strip at least three times between 1999 and last year.
"I was under no pressure, and in fact, I wasn't even sure I was making an album. I just started writing songs. I felt like I was sort of getting stuck in all the old stuff," she says.
As nostalgia goes, Blondie's punchy, punk-influenced pop holds up better than much of the music that surrounded it. Harry gave the radio an early version of rap on "Rapture" in 1981, and "Tide is High" was the rare reggae rhythm to work its way up the U.S. charts in 1980.
"I don't think that Blondie sounds nostalgic especially," she says. "But when you're forced to do songs over and over that you wrote 30 years ago, it's just sort of crippling in a way. I think artists are supposed to be creative and supposed to be thinking all the time." The new album "became sort of imperative, like I really had to do it."
Harry originally planned to leave Blondie out of this small-venue tour. But she buckled to promoter pressure and started including new arrangements of "Tide is High" and "Heart of Glass."
Even so, she says she's been getting great feedback for a set that showcases the new disc and tracks from her four previous solo efforts. "I'm very proud of my solo albums. I wish more people were aware of them," she says. "They're really strong efforts and largely have been really overlooked."
Her solo catalog includes the worthy singles "Backfired" and "French Kissin'," and musical support from members of R.E.M. on 1993's "Debravation." The past work blends seamlessly with the new album's single, "Two Times Blue," while Blondie fans will hear echoes of "Rapture" in the title track and recognize Harry's icy dance-floor queen in "Love With Vengeance."
No one ever confused Harry's sometimes aloof, always economic singing with the histrionics of the "American Idol" school. But Harry says that's because she's more in tune with her lyrics, not less.
"I guess for a lot of people that makes sense because they don't have any real emotional connection to what they're singing about," she says. "That to me is what I do the best. I know exactly what I'm singing about. That's where I start from. So it doesn't really matter to me to do a lot of flourishes or crescendos or slides or whatever you want to call them.
"If you really have your emotional center, if your core is really relating to it, and you're really right in the middle of it, that's where it really pays off."
reviewjournal - 7th December 2007