[20 January 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Deborah Harry’s solo career has often challenged those who just want her to warble, “Once I had a love.” The record company’s commercial considerations usually struck an uneasy balance with Harry’s artistic aspirations. They sought some semblance of Blondie, and she wanted to carve her own identity independent of the million-selling group. Underscoring this polarity, BGO Records serves up a set of two solo albums, Koo Koo (1981), and Def, Dumb & Blonde (1989), that find the artist breaking convention, and at the record company’s urging, aiming for that elusive hit
Koo Koo, her first solo outing, is a truly fascinating effort. Produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. and perhaps a little too ahead of its time, Koo Koo shocked audiences expecting another “Heart of Glass”. While still an acquired taste, its edgy mix of funk, new wave, rock, and Middle Eastern motifs, is best experienced with ample amplification to maximize the effect of Chic’s rhythm section. Rodgers and Edwards lay down some prime licks on “Surrender” and Harry howls over the driving post-punk energy of “Under Arrest”. Pseudo-Beat poetry, horns, and helicopter sound effects make “Military Rap” worth the price of entry, and the rest of Koo Koo for that matter.
Jumping one Blondie album (1982’s The Hunter) and solo album (1986’s Rockbird) later, Def, Dumb & Blonde reunited Deborah Harry with hit Blondie producer Mike Chapman, and teamed her with the Thompson Twins on a pair of tracks. The bright-pop sheen of “I Want That Man” and “Kiss It Better” indicate a concerted appeal to a pop audience that confine the songs to 1989. “Maybe for Sure”, written by Harry with Chris Stein, has aged better in the years since while “Sweet and Low” remains a guilty dance-floor pleasure. (Note to collectors: four additional songs from the original album, including the solo classic “Bike Boy”, are mysteriously absent on this version of Def, Dumb & Blonde.
The packaging of the albums is just this side of a budget release—the striking cover art of Koo Koo is reduced to a quarter-page square—but the liner notes do offer a crash course in Deborah Harry’s solo career for those who only know the Blondie story. Any excuse to hear Koo Koo, a most rewarding curio in the oeuvre of both Deborah Harry and Chic, is good enough to take the plunge—with caution.