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thestar.com - 23rd November 2007
Blondie singer releases solo disc
At 62, pop-culture icon Debbie Harry breaks out of the New Wave box with new solo album
Nov 23, 2007 04:30 AM
Pop music critic
Hangin' with drag queens and friends of the Scissor Sisters is probably not the ideal Moral Majority recipe for eternal youth of spirit, but it's definitely working for Debbie Harry.
At 62, the Blondie singer and bona fide pop-culture icon is still as cool a customer as they make in New York City, with hot young things M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem in her CD changer and a brand new solo disc that refuses to conform to anyone else's ideas of what Debbie Harry should sound like.
Necessary Evil, released last month, casually emerged from loose sessions with the production team of Barb Morrison and Charles Neiland, who under the name Super Buddha have worked with the Scissor Sisters and Rufus Wainwright.
An album was never really the aim, says Harry. She just took to the pair after being introduced by her friend and hairdresser Guy Furrow – who some might remember as the comely transvestite Miss Guy, leader of the late, great Toilet Boys – and wanted to work with them. You know, for fun.
"I really wanted to do something fresh and something new, but it's hard to organize Blondie. It's kind of a large enterprise," says Harry, in town tonight for a solo gig at the Phoenix. "I was really wanting to write some new music, and at the same time I met some people who I really enjoyed working with, so it was very simple for me. ... I wasn't under any pressure to do anything. It was just because I wanted to."
Obviously, Harry has nothing against Blondie – which broke up in 1982 but reformed 10 years ago and has continued to record and tour ever since. But with the band and its legend come the constraints of balancing "art and commerce."
Whenever Blondie regroups to make another album (its last was 2003's aptly titled The Curse of Blondie) there is inevitably pressure from label folk and fans to make "a Blondie-sounding thing." As a result, Harry concedes she occasionally feels "frozen" in a certain musical position.
"This time I wasn't associated with a label," she says. "Eventually it grew into a distribution deal, but initially I was just doing it myself and I was funding it myself ... I wanted it to be a contemporary thing. I did not want it to sound like a Blondie album. I wanted the freedom to have a few edges and be a bit more aggressive in some areas."
Necessary Evil is, thus, a freewheeling affair, mingling au courant electropunk attitude and hip-hop-influence beats with more familiar, retro-tinged New Wave fare and a couple of diva ballads. Even Harry's longtime Blondie songwriting partner (and onetime boyfriend) Chris Stein appears to have relished the freedom from their regular gig, contributing a pair of tunes – one a strange, ethno-electronic instrumental – that sound decidedly unlike Blondie.
She is nonetheless throwing the Blondie faithful a couple of bones during her current tour.
"I really wanted to do just a solo thing, but then some of the promoters got very irate and insisted I do some Blondie material," she laughs. "So I do two Blondie songs, `The Tide is High' and `Heart of Glass,' but I do them acoustic and in a very different way from Blondie. I didn't really want to step on Blondie's toes, even though they're my own toes.
Essential Debbie Harry
Necessary Evil isn't the only evidence of Debbie Harry's commitment to pushing forward creatively. Throughout her 30-year career, she's always embraced new sounds and new technologies in her music. Some evidence:
"In the Flesh" (1976) Long before the Pipettes and Amy Winehouse, Blondie was recasting girl-group naiveté in a modern context on its very first album.
"Heart of Glass" (1978) Wherein Blondie's Parallel Lines demonstrated that disco and New York punk need not be mutually exclusive.
"Rapture" (1980) Her flow is a little dodgy, admittedly, but Harry's rap on this smash single from Blondie's Autoamerican album was the first hint of hip hop to hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts.
"The Jam Was Moving" (1981) Fired-up funk laid down with Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers for Harry's solo debut, KooKoo.
The Jazz Passengers: Individually Twisted (1996) Suddenly, Harry's a smoky-voiced jazz siren.
"Dirty and Deep" (2007) A hot-under-the-collar salvo of post-electroclash New York synth-punk. Very "now."
thestar.com - 23rd November 2007