Melody Maker - 1st October 1994
Melody Maker - October 1st 1994 - page 41
Without Blondie there'd be no Elastica/Hole/Shampoo. That's what you're meant to say, isn't it? Not CHRIS ROBERTS. Without Blondie there'd be no Blondie. That's all he cares about.
BLONDIE/PLASTIC LETTERS/AUTOAMERICAN/THE HUNTER
KOOKOO/ROCKBIRD/DEF,DUMB AND BLONDE
All Chrysalis, various cat nos/88 tks/286 mins/FP
IT would be preposterous of me to pretend here that I didn't recently write an epic monologue on and around the pop star Deborah Harry for "Idle Worship", a book currently outselling "The Dark Stuff" by a ratio of three to one. (Like, ner ner ner NER ner.)
While plugging the aforementioned volume on every radio and television station known to mankind, the most common question - apart from "Where did you get that jacket?" - has been, "But did Blondie actually make any good records outside the obvious ones?"
Well, yes, althought it's hardly the issue. This batch of seven re-releases will always be perceived as the ones which aren't "Parallel Lines" or "Eat To The Beat". But rubies aren't gold or silver.
"Blondie" (1976) was a prototype; very New York, very diamonds in the grime. Punk rock with a smart sense of humour, it includes "X Offender", "Little Girl Lies", the mock-romantic "In The Flesh" and the (here we go) seminal "Rip Her To Shreds". Seventeen years on, people are calling Courtney Love brave for aspiring (and failing, embarrassingly) to match this track's wonderfully bad attitude.
"Plastic Letters" (1977) is utterly iconic, from the peerless cover shot to such deathless singles as "Presence Dear" (have I told you about the time...?) and "Denis". Often it's The Ronettes with guitar amps. Sometimes, it's confusingly poetic (praise indeed), as during the definitively visceral "Fan Mail" or "I'm On E" (visionary!). "Cautious Lip" remains an anthem of uncertainty disguised as swagger.
And then Blondie were only like the biggest and best group in the cosmos for a few years. After the two platinum benchmarks they went a little weird and avant-garde for "Autoamerican" (1980). This, despite the presence of "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High" is a consistently underrated magnum opus, full of twists and turns, drama and drive. There are tacky cocktail-lounge chansons and there's much quasi-profound modern-age mysticism. Ms Harry's vocal phrasing throughout is a thing of knowing joy and of beauty commenting on itself. An eternally compelling album.
Next, things went wonky. "The Hunter" (1982) is a record so devoid of direction and self-awareness - as exemplified by the listless "Island Of Lost Souls" - that one cannot quite believe it was made by the same group of people. That Chris Stein was by now an ill man is credible. Popularity fatigue had taken its toll.
Prior to this, "Kookoo" (1981) had seen Debbie going solo under the guidance of the success-prone Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, shortly after their prime Chic era. An intiguing web of pallid funk sung by a robot wannabe, "Kookoo" is unnerving and unique and so far ahead of its time that I can't bring myself to be corny enough to say so.
Time played its tricks. "Rockbird" (1986) wasn't the greatest solo record ever made, but enjoyed sacred moments such as "Freefall" and "In Love With Love". And don't ever believe the received wisdom on "French Kissin' In The USA, a consummate flirtation, a neon smooch. As for "Def, Dumb And Blonde" (1989), I can't be objective about what was the soundtrack to my life for six months. The lovely "Brite Side", The ringing "Maybe For Sure", and the wise-after-the-event "End Of The Run" prompt Proustian rushes in my soul of portentous grandeur. The most perfectly gauged comeback album in pop history, no contest.
As a filling-in-the-gaps excercise, then, this re-issue blitz is more than worthwhile. The "real" Blondie story is something more tangible than records. It's about illusion and imagination, it's about being captured by rapture. Me, I wrote the f***ing book.