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Blondie's Roots Are Showing

Blondie revolutionized New York music scene in the late ’70s with its unique brand of glam-powered punk rock. The enigmatic quality of lead vocalist Deborah Harry made the band one of the most notable alternatives to disco.

Thirty years after the group’s formation, Blondie is back with a second comeback album, ironically titled “The Curse Of Blondie.” The band also has embarked on a nationwide tour this spring in conjunction with the CD release.

One of Blondie’s greatest accomplishments is that the group dared to stretch musical boundaries. The band is strongly rooted in punk and new wave, but did not hesitate to push the envelope in the studio and onstage to capture a wide variety of musical tastes, including those of gays.

Early on, gays embraced Harry’s diva-like stage presence and campy performances, which were often parodies on the typical blond stereotype. She also frequently attended New York’s annual drag festival Wigstock.

The singer, now 58, firmly established herself as a gay favorite after cameo appearances in movies such as “Hairspray” and a guest role on “Will & Grace” in 2003. Most recently, she was featured on VH1’s “Totally Gayer.”

Deborah Harry officially formed Blondie in 1974 with drummer Clement Burke, guitarist Chris Stein, bassist Gary Valentine (who was later replaced by Frank Infante) and keyboard player James Destri.

The band released its self-titled debut album in 1976, but it was not until a year later that the group’s second album, “Plastic Letters,” delivered the single “Denis Denis,” which was a hit in the U.K.

The group had a few more noteworthy hits, including “Rapture” and the reggae-infused “The Tide Is High.

Harry took advantage of her success with Blondie, which broke up in 1982, to develop a solo career. She collaborated with Giorgio Morodor on the memorable “Call Me,” the theme to the film “American Gigolo,” which starred Richard Gere.

In many ways “The Curse of Blondie,” is everything that the group’s first comeback album, “No Exit,” in 1999 wasn’t. “No Exit” was a poor attempt by the band to sound relevant by including musical styles that simply seemed too much of a stretch.

One of the best examples of what went wrong involved the odd coupling of Harry and rapper Coolio on the album’s title track.

On “The Curse of Blondie,” the group has partially succeeded in reinventing itself again, with help from producer Steve Thompson.

The album’s 14 songs feature a vintage Blondie sound that includes a variety of genres with a stylish pop rock lining and Harry’s seductive vocals. The opening track, “Shakedown,” is an unconvincing R&B/hip-hop track with Harry rapping nonsense rhymes that seem silly and out of place.

Thankfully, she goes back to singing on the up-tempo “Good Boys,” a playful nod to Blondie’s past, with its tight electro arrangement and catchy melody.

On the climatic “Rules for Living,” group members revive their classic spirit with a dramatic guitar riff and Harry’s poetic storytelling.

Toward the CD’s conclusion, Blondie includes a fitting experimental jazz jam on “Desire Brings Me Back.” The song “Hello Joe” is dedicated to friend Joey Ramone, who was an important musical ally during Blondie’s heyday in the ’70s.

Now that Blondie’s members are reaching retirement age, however, the inevitable cracks and wrinkles are starting to show. Though Harry still shows zest on “Good Boys,” most of the album fails to make a memorable impression.

April 23, 2004 in Music Reviews | Permalink

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