Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Blondie

  • Blondie [Private Stock, 1976] B+
  • Plastic Letters [Chrysalis, 1977] B+
  • Parallel Lines [Chrysalis, 1978] A
  • Eat to the Beat [Chrysalis, 1979] A-
  • Autoamerican [Chrysalis, 1980] B-
  • The Best of Blondie [Chrysalis, 1981] A-
  • The Hunter [Chrysalis, 1982] C
  • Essential Blondie: Picture This Live [Chrysalis/EMI-Capitol, 1997] A-
  • No Exit [Beyond, 1999] A-
  • Blondie Live [Beyond, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • The Curse of Blondie [Sanctuary, 2004] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Blondie [Private Stock, 1976]
Ahh, New York. I remember Debbie Blondie when she was singing with nursery-rhyme breathiness for a group called the Wind in the Willows. Now she sounds flatly cynical against a very funny aural montage of girl-group and original-punk usages from the prepsychedelic era--less blithe, certainly, but more, you know, together. Which is what new-punk posturing is all about. Special award: best use of trash organ since "Light My Fire." B+

Plastic Letters [Chrysalis, 1977]
Side one is everything this band is supposed to be--seven fresh, clever, evanescent songs, each with its own hip twist. Whether Deborah Harry is claiming that using telepathy to win at poker is "really not cheating" or executing a siren call for the electric age (the bell she imitates sounds like it belongs on a squad car), her vocals are on top and out front, a pop-rock delight. But side two bombs, except for "Kidnapper" and a couple of refrains, and the singing gets lost in the mud. Me, I'd buy it for side one. But I'm not sure about you. B+

Parallel Lines [Chrysalis, 1978]
As unlikely as it seemed three years ago, they've actually achieved their synthesis of the Dixie Cups and the Electric Prunes--their third is as close to God as pop-rock albums ever get, or got. Closer, actually--even on side two every song generates its own unique, scintillating glitz. What seems at first like a big bright box of hard candy turns out to have guts, feeling, a chewy center, and Deborah Harry's vocal gloss reveals nooks of compassion and sheer physical give that makes the protagonists of these too-too modern fragments seem as tragic (or untragic) as those of any other epoch. Plus the band really New Yawks it up--try the chorus of "Just Go Away." A

Eat to the Beat [Chrysalis, 1979]
This makes it in the end, but not by much--a tour de force like Parallel Lines it ain't. The soft focus of the lyrics remains more evasive than profound or mysterious, and a lot of what replaces the diminished popcraft either wanders ("Sound-A-Sleep") or repeats experiments we've heard before ("Victor"). Then again, "Sound-A-Sleep" probably ought to wander, since it's about insomnia and the pushy organ hysterics of "Victor" are a gutsy move for a group that's supposed to have gone AOR. I don't like the overarching fatalism--me, I hope to die old and get ugly--but I do like the way the lyrics depart from pop bohemia to speak directly to the mass audience they're reaching. And Debbie just keeps getting better. A-

Autoamerican [Chrysalis, 1980]
It's odd at best that the two hits and the two high points are the two songs predicated on black sources--the resourceful reggae cover "The Tide Is High" and the genius rap rip "Rapture" (which stands, let me assure my fellow Flash fans, as the funniest, fondest joke she ever told on herself). Elsewhere power pop turns power cabaret and Sgt. Pepper turns white album, only without Lennon-McCartney, or even McCartney. Debbie sings better all the time, but a better singer than she'll ever be couldn't save "T-Birds," or "Faces." They got what they wanted and now what? B-

The Best of Blondie [Chrysalis, 1981]
This could convince the unwary listener that they're the great mindless pop band they pose as--songs from all over the place cohere as if they were created only to get on the radio. Nor is this impression discouraged by the tactful Mike Chapman remixes that bring three early efforts into the new wave age. But go back to Parallel Lines, or the first side of Plastic Letters, and recall how an art band makes songs cohere--it creates them to go on a record. If they also get on the radio, that means the scam worked. A-

The Hunter [Chrysalis, 1982]
I've feuded for years with moralists who accused the band of abandoning a lowbrow purity they never claimed in the first place, but this is a lousy record by any standard--the pop, the eclectic, even the arty. That Debbie is writing all the lyrics is only symptomatic--the tragedy is that of an absorptive, synthetic talent trying to find its essence, a doomed project that's doubly disorienting because she's canny enough not to believe in "self-expression" per se. Instead she galumphs about in search of referents, referents she seemed to locate naturally back when she could walk the Bowery without a disguise. C

Essential Blondie: Picture This Live [Chrysalis/EMI-Capitol, 1997]
Repeating nine songs from the perfect slickpopdiscosellout Parallel Lines, this piece of brass welds two sections of a 1980 show around one from 1978 into memento mori for fans who loved them to the bone and forensic evidence against fools who mistook their flesh for plastic. It laughs at polish all the way to a 15-minute "Bang a Gong"/"Funtime." Punk? Who knows? Garage? Wake up and smell the carbon monoxide. A-

No Exit [Beyond, 1999]
Forms lose their spring; social configurations fissure and disintegrate. But what usually wears out first is the commitments they inspire, and here the commitment is as palpable as such ironic formalists can make it. Chris Stein is still a great listener, and Debbie Harry never stopped growing. She sings with a force and technical command unimaginable in 1980, and producer Craig Leon comes back at her resonance for resonance. No new song will equal your very favorites. But as a "Rapture"/"One Way or Another" guy, I'll trade the sexo-mystico "Screaming Skin" for "Heart of Glass," the Euro-friendly "Maria" for "Call Me," and No Exit for, oh, Eat to the Beat. A-

Blondie Live [Beyond, 1999]
"Rapture" Choice Cuts

The Curse of Blondie [Sanctuary, 2004]
Believes in reincarnation, wishes the pope had a bigger dick ("Shakedown," "End to End") **

See Also