Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Debbie Harry [extended]

  • KooKoo [Chrysalis, 1981] B-
  • Rockbird [Geffen, 1986] B
  • Once More Into the Bleach [Chrysalis, 1988] C+
  • Def, Dumb and Blonde [Sire, 1989] B+
  • Debravation [Sire/Reprise, 1993] Neither
  • Individually Twisted [32 Records, 1997] A-
  • Live in Spain [32 Records, 1998] **
  • Necessary Evil [Eleven Seven Music, 2007] *

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

KooKoo [Chrysalis, 1981]
Blondie plus Chic sounded like a natural--charming klutz confronts the meaning of grace. But in the world of surfaces that both inhabit so intensely there are no naturals, and the kind of spiritual heat that might have made the bond take is rare at any depth. Lots of sharp little moments are intermittently arresting, and if both artists establish themselves as classic the strain may sound noble eventually. Right now it sounds klutzy. B-

Rockbird [Geffen, 1986]
It's her achievement and her curse that just listening to the record you'd think she never went away. Vocal technique and vocal identity are sharper than when she withdrew from the fray five years ago, and the songs are brasher and more insouciant than on The Hunter or KooKoo or Autoamerican. If the sound could be a mite fresher, that's because the world is now overrun with the dance-rock Harry made possible--just as it's overrun with cartoon sexpots carrying tunes, whose collective existence give her a larger identity problem she refuses to confront. But it's also because the late '70s were Harry's heyday. Not too many pop icons get more than one of those. B

Debbie Harry/Blondie: Once More Into the Bleach [Chrysalis, 1988]
She's known since "Rapture" where the dance action was, which is why Nile Rodgers produced KooKoo. So this last-ditch two-LP disco-targeted repackage, half of it totally extraneous 1988 remixes of group and solo titles by Jellybean, Coldcut, and lesser mortals, proves that knowing it ain't doing it. The spare-to-wimpy electrotrack of the original "Rapture," for instance, is decisively more graceful than Teddy Riley's new beats. DOR was her destiny. And new jack is a new generation. C+

Deborah Harry: Def, Dumb and Blonde [Sire, 1989]
Though she only approaches the daffy, wryly detached tone of past glories on maybe four songs (including a couple by the Thompson Twins), she's got the right idea and some nice touches--little recitatives, unassuming rap and house, Ian Astbury chiming in like Fred Schneider on Chris's occult number. The opener eagerly awaits the 21st century: "I'll keep the money/You can have the fame"; the closer goes on elegiacally about the pastness of past glories: "I knew it then/It won't be back again." And in the end she's worth the trip if you can go CD, thus securing a lyric sheet and four add-ons, three of them punky. B+

Debravation [Sire/Reprise, 1993] Neither

The Jazz Passengers Featuring Deborah Harry: Individually Twisted [32 Records, 1997]
A friend of Roy Nathanson since long before this band began a decade ago, I've loved the Passengers on stage, where the saxophonist kept the interactions grooving like the comic actor he also is, and found their records arty. Here the artiest track is Elvis Costello's (and bassist Brad Jones's) long-lined "Aubergine," the runner-up "Imitation of a Kiss," originally the pick to click on In Love, counted the Passengers' pop move in 1994 because it had lyrics. From Nathanson and Harry's slantwise opener to Blondie's loopy closer, from David Cale's mock-'40s exotica to Nathanson's jump blues homage, its pleasures are various and manifest, and if they're over the head of the average Costello completist, that's because this pop move isn't aimed at any kind of average. Starting with the girl singer, it's real musicians tweaking real sophistication into something genuinely cooler--and warmer. A-

The Jazz Passengers Featuring Deborah Harry: Live in Spain [32 Records, 1998]
Who says a rock chick can't sing jazz music? ("Fathouse," "Dog in Sand"). **

Necessary Evil [Eleven Seven Music, 2007]
Nah, she's not Blondie--Blondie was a band, and still is ("Jen Jen," "Paradise"). *

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