Nearly three decades after crashing the New York City punk scene, Blondie returns intent on trying to recapture a bit of past glory. But revisiting previous triumphs is no easy task, especially for a band like Blondie. Arguably the most commercially successful of its mid-‘70s brethren, Deborah Harry and Co. melded a unique blend of new wave flash and street punk grit into several critically acclaimed albums, notably 1978’s outstanding Parallel Lines. Additionally, Blondie transitioned its sound into the early disco and rap genres with seemingly little effort, adding to its mainstream accessibility and success. So then, with chart hits like “Heart of Glass”, “Hanging on the Telephone”, “The Tide is High”, and “One Way or Another” on its resume, can Blondie live up to its achievements of yesteryear?
At first listen, The Curse of Blondie appears to be a futile attempt at covering all musical bases, including new wave, euro-pop, spoken word, rock, and even club rave. The album opens with the amateurish “Shakedown”, a song anchored by inane rap lyrics that more closely resembles a cheap Christina Aguillera track that anything Blondie-esque. Fortunately, the solid “Good Boys” and “Undone” follow, evidence that Blondie 2004 can still summon enough of its Blondie 1974 sensibilities to sound convincing.
Therein lies the problem: While the band retains the capacity to produce at a high level, the remainder of the album is punctuated by a veritable roller coaster of quality, resulting in a decidedly inconsistent effort. One moment the band is tearing through the hard-rocking, hook-driven “Last One In the World”, the next, listeners are being put to sleep with the mediocre “Songs of Love”, or left cringing at the trippy synthesized sonic squalor of “Magic (Asadoya Yunta)”.
Even Harry herself offers up conflicting performances; her magnificently husky vocals on “End to End” are juxtaposed by the Bjork-like shrillness of “Background Melody (The Only One)”, leaving one to believe that she, a) No longer has the confidence to consistently play to her own strengths, or b) Has, with the band, become infatuated with experimentation, even at this late stage of Blondie’s career.
Based on the album’s frustrating unevenness, it would be extremely easy to simply write Blondie off as a wonderful act whose time has come and gone. But to do so would be to miss the genuine brilliance of the new songs “Diamond Bridge” and “Golden Rod”. Both feature Clem Burke’s crisp drumming and Chris Stein’s impressive guitar work, with the latter track being the album’s unquestioned highlight, as well as the finest song Blondie has recorded in twenty years. This pair exemplifies the group at its best: Plugged in, stripped down, aggressive and unpretentious. If only the entire album mirrored these two offerings…
Ultimately Blondie’s legacy will be defined by its vintage output from the ‘70s and ‘80s, rather than its efforts in the ‘90s and beyond. While The Curse of Blondie is nowhere near the quality of Eat to the Beat, it contains enough glimpses of what was, to leave listeners with a thought of what may still be.
Perhaps then, the true curse of Blondie is defined by the band’s impressive catalogue of material, the quality of which can never again be fully attained.
// Notes from the Road
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