Blondie, America's greatest pop band, is back on the scene with an amazing new album "The Curse of Blondie." It's a monster in more ways than one. It's a real Blondie masterwork, with fourteen powerful new songs - probably the most musically varied and experimental album in the group's history. It's also a monster because giant hits seem to lurk within it, threatening to explode at any moment. And it's also a monster because it flirts with the noir world of horror flicks and carries the ironic title "The Curse of Blondie." It's tongue in cheek, but...
Consider the fact that the band took sixteen years off between their sixth and seventh albums. Consider the fact that dissension broke up the group at the peak of their enormous success. Consider that Chris, the group's guitarist and hit writer, almost died of a rare and mysterious disease. Consider the fact that many of the group's closest associates in the new wave and punk movements are now in the grave or living in Florida. Consider the fact that the new album was four years in the making. Maybe there's something to this title.
"It's been a standing joke for years," says Deborah Harry, the singer, songwriter and blondest member of the group. "Every time something weird would happen we would say, 'It's the Curse of Blondie.' A lot of people take it seriously, but it's silly. It's sort of a Vincent Price, horror movie type title. I think it's lucky."
"The title is about how much of a pain in the ass everything is always," philosophizes founding Blondie member Chris Stein. "Everything is a struggle. But I guess it's for the best. You can't argue with the results."
The Curse of Blondie? It adds to the mystique that as an actress Debbie has starred in creepy thrillers like Videodrome by director David Cronenbeg, and the scary "Six Ways to Sunday" with Norman Reedus. And that she was a muse of "Alien" designer H.R. Giger who created the cover of her first solo album. And that Chris is known to have a collection of occult artifacts from famed magicians that would scare the knickers off Harry Potter.
The curse was working on this record which was scheduled for release two years ago, except that strange things kept happening. At one point the tapes vanished. But the thing about the Curse of Blondie is that like zombies, vampires or dandruff, they keep coming back. But somehow, each time they do, they are refreshed, revitalized and inspired anew.
The Curse of Blondie is the band's eleventh album, including "best of" and live discs. It's the eighth studio album, and with fourteen new songs, it could be the most musically accomplished and suprising of their long and amazing career.
Blondie emerged as the great pop band of the New York New Wave Punk scene. But they always defied categorization because they did the music they loved. They scored the first major reggae, rock/disco and hip hop hits. They wrote great rock hooks and brilliant ironic lyrics. They had the hippest clothes and the coolest hair. Debbie went from the cover of Punk magazine to being on the cover of just about every magazine.
The original BLONDIE was formed in 1974 by art student/guitarist Chris Stein and ex-fokie, ex-Max's Kansas City waitress and Playboy bunny, vocalist Debbie Harry. Drummer Clem Burke and keyboard player Jimmy Destri joined in 1975. The band played in New York downtown circuit - CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and Mothers. They collected a big following and in 1976 they recorded their first album BLONDIE. It was released in 1977 and was well received. After a successful stint in L.A., the band toured in support of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
In the summer of 1977 they released their second album. Plastic Letters, and toured Europe and Asia. In March of 1978 the single "Denis Denis" hit #2 in the UK. That summer the band worked with producer Mike Chapman to hone their radio sound and create the album Parallel Lines, The single "Picture This" made #12 in the UK and the follow-up "Hanging on the Telephone" hit #5. At the end of the year Debbie made her first film, Union City.
In 1979 BLONDIE had their first #1 US hit with "Heart Of Glass" which also sold over a million copies in the UK. The album sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The fourth single from Parallel Lines, "Sunday Girl" also hit #1 in the UK. In September 1979 the band's fourth album "Eat To The Beat" was released, along with the first ever album length video. Before the year's end BLONDIE had continued their chart presence in the UK with the #2 hit "Dreaming."
In February 1980 they hit #1 in England again with "Atomic." Two months later they hit #1 in the US a second time with "Call Me," from the film American Gigolo. Before the end of the year Eat to the Beat was certified platinum and Debbie was on "The Muppet Show."
The fifth BLONDIE album, Autoamerican was released in January and the first single "The Tide Is High" made #1 in the UK. The first reggae tinged hit, it was #1 in the U.S. by March. The band appeared on the popular TV show "Solid Gold," and soon the album was solid platinum. In August Debbie released her first solo album, "Koo Koo," produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic and featuring a cover by H.R. Giger, the Academy Award winning sci-fi artist who created the Alien creature.
By 1982 there was dissension in the band, but they still managed to produce another album The Hunter. The single "Island of Lost Souls" was the band's last US hit. In the meantime Chris was felled by a rare and often fatal genetic disease, and the band fell apart.
Debbie went on to appear in numerous films and plays and to create music in various contexts. In recent years she has been the featured vocalist of the Jazz Passengers. Jimmy left music for a while to become a family man and contractor. Chris produced various bands in New York. Clem continued to record and tour with top acts. Sixteen years later the bandmember were used to being apart, but miraculously they were still talking. The friendships were still there. The doors were ajar. Responding to a request, they reformed to play a concert and had so much fun and found so much chemistry remaining that they decided to try to make some new music. That worked out so well that they reformed and made a new album. No Exit, the seventh Blondie studio album, was produced by Craig Leon, who had actually produced the band's first single, X-Offender, and worked on the first album assisting producer Richard Gottherer.
No Exit surprised many listeners because it sounded like the band had been together all along. It wasn't a typical, perfunctory, belabored comeback. It was a perfect, up-to-date evolution of Blondie - a great collection perfectly crafted pop songs. The trademark elements were still there: that perfect, propulsive beat; Debbie's unmistakable voice, seductive, soulful yet ironic; atmospheric keyboards, sometimes lush, sometimes eerie; and brilliantly articulated guitar lines. It was an auspicious return, highlighted by the hit "Maria" which went to #1 in 14 countries. The album sold more than two million units worldwide and, behind it, the band completed two tours of the U.S, the U.K. and Europe.
As powerful and fresh as it was, No Exit may have been just a warm up for The Curse of Blondie. The album starts off with "Shakedown", a state-of-the-art R & B hip hop gem penned by Debbie and Chris. It sounds like the best of what's on the urban radio except the lyrics are, perhaps, urbane. "The Rap is the best one Debbie has ever done," says Chris, which is saying something since she scored the first hip hop number one ever. The lyrics are brilliant and the delivery is as smooth as that other great blond rapper, the one from Michigan.
"I wanted to get a song on the Sopranos and I figured they'd like it if I did a pro-Jersey rap," says Debbie. "And I'm from New Jersey so I thought I might as well own up to it. I'm from Hawthorne."
The first single, "Good Boys," written by Kevin Griffin (Better Than Ezra) and Debbie, is a classic up-tempo Blondie-thon with hooks that grab like velcro. The video was created by Jonas Ackerlund, who directed Debbie in the edgy hit film Spun and there are rumors of remixes by the likes of Giorgio Moroder. The Curse of Blondie is an album of extraordinary richness and variety filled with strong songs, from major pop tunes like the infectious "Hello Joe" which is dedicated to Joey Ramone, to a variety of quirky and charming excursions - from a rewrite of traditional Okinawan folk song "Magic (Asadoya Yunta)" to a cosmic, free jazz-tinged ballad "Desire Brings Me Back" that is reminiscent of the Blondie standard "Cautious Lip." Another jazzy ballad, "Songs of Love," is a haunting tune that could be a dark horse hit.
Blondie still rocks. "Last One in the World," conjures up an apocalyptic metal mood that would make vintage Ozzy jealous, while "Rules for Living," written by Jimmy Destri, demonstrates once again Blondie's unmatched light touch on heaviness. There are also plenty of pretty things: the lilting "Background Melody" with Debbie floating a gorgeous lacy tune over a skanking dub groove. "The Tingler" a playful takeoff on the horror film of the same name is about an itch and then it goes on to demonstrate that nobody does "catchy" like Blondie. They make a tune absolutely contagious.
Digital technology allowed them to record it wherever they felt like working - often in the basement of Chris's loft - which may have contributed to the free, creative attitude. Like "No Exit," "The Curse of Blondie" was co-produced by Craig Leon. He may or may not have contributed to "the curse." "Definitely," says Chris. "Craig looks like a creature. He looks like Peter Lorre. He's fascinating. He should be studied scientifically."
The Curse of Blondie proves that the band hasn't lost a step. In fact the band has refined its chops and plays better than ever, but what's amazing is that they've kept totally current. Chris Stein says "It's in the groove of what's happening, but it still pushing the envelope."
The Curse of Blondie is the envelope. Debbie is rightfully proud of the band: "The guys have gotten really good at what they do. I mean they always were good players and songwriters, but I think now you could say they're accomplished."
Maybe the Curse of Blondie will finally prove to be a good luck charm. "I think this record is the best one yet," says Debbie, for once without a trace of irony in her voice.