BLONDIE Greatest Hits (EMI)
What has a quarter of a century of evolution done for the Blondie compilation? Well, compared with my vintage junk shop vinyl copy of 1981s The Best Of Blondie, the latters 14 great tracks have been expanded to nearly 80 minutes of music, mainly by the addition of album tracks from their golden first age and material from their reunion years. The colour poster advertised on the cover of but sadly absent from my Best Of has been substantially upgraded to an hour long DVD of promo clips, a rare instance of technology delivering a tangible benefit rather than merely requiring consumers to buy music they own all over again.
And the music? Well, Greatest Hits cheats a little by frontloading the best bits six of the first seven tracks were UK number ones but how loudly can you complain about any album that opens with Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, Atomic (Ive never noticed before just how vacuous its lyrics are, not that it detracts one iota from its shiny plastic pop brilliance), Call Me and The Tide Is High? And perhaps there are grounds for suggesting that, with their CBGB roots and genuine Giorgio Moroder Eurodisco throb, they had indie-dance down pat a dozen years ahead of Screamadelica. Gauche as Rapture might sound today (and maybe did even back then) as the first rap-inflected single to top the American charts it has a lasting cultural significance. Even their late 90s comeback wasnt totally artistically bankrupt: the crisp, soaring, stomping Maria more than justifies its place in this company.
On the other hand, In The Flesh is drastically diluted by the rotten electroclash-y remix it suffers here, and all the 1978-flavoured songs that follow Denis, (Im Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear, Picture This, Hanging On The Telephone delightful as they are seem lessened following that glorious opening. Fade Away (And Radiate) retains its oddness in this company, with its quirky arrangement, thumping, cavernous drums and Robert Fripp/Mike Oldfield-styled guitar work. Union City Blue always struck me as something of an anomaly in the Blondie catalogue, with its vast, drifting plates of melody, totally different to the hopped-up pop that surrounds it.
In contrast to the blazing, cocksure confidence of its opening reel, the disc ends on a downer. Heralding the groups rapid decline, Island Of Lost Souls sounds unnervingly like a Lilt commercial, banging on about pirates not perhaps the most cutting edge activity in the wake of the dissolution of Adam & The Ants. Good Boys Blow Up Mix and End To End find the band shipwrecked in the 21st century, peddling listless electro-lite, all the Blondie-ness and exuberance long squeezed out of it. Finally, a mashup of Rapture and The Doors Riders On The Storm seems to serve no artistic purpose; like many of its ilk just because it can be done doesnt necessarily mean that it should be done.
The chronologically sequenced DVD presents a more historically authentic chronicle of the bands rise, fall and brief resurrection. Theres something vaguely Beatley about the early studio set promos In The Flesh and X Offender, but nothing to justify the bands reputation for visual Úlan. That, perhaps unsurprisingly, kicks in at precisely the same moment as mainstream success, with Debbie Harry barely dressed during Denis and seemingly bathed in a halo of golden light for much of the late seventies thereafter. Heart Of Glass, filmed in famed New York disco haven Studio 54, is perhaps the pinnacle of this phase, although The Tide Is High is also noteworthy for managing sardonic rip-offs of both Star Wars and The Wall.
BLONDIE Eat To The Beat (Chrysalis)
The follow-up album to the planet-straddlingly successful “Parallel Lines”, 1979’s “Eat To The Beat” features the expected smattering of perfect pop songs. There’s the perky power punk of “Dreaming” for starters, and the perennially underrated swaying widescreen melancholia of “Union City Blue”, kinda like a kitchen sink drama done Scorsese-style. “Atomic” sounds even more futuristic with the passing decades, its doomed Warholian blankness wrapped up in shiny New Romantic tinfoil.
Outside these safe harbours, though, the pickings are slimmer. “Eat To The Beat” sounds like the work of a band desperately trying not to repeat themselves, which is of course admirable in theory. Unfortunately, a lot of it seems strangely charmless, for example the plasticized approximation of classic girl group pop demonstrated by “Shayla” and “Slow Motion”, the title track’s unlovely jerky new wave and the bizarre operatics of “Victor”. At least the white reggae of “Die Young Stay Pretty” enhances the reputation of their later work in that area, “The Tide Is High”. The sum effect is to make the band seem like dilettantish bandwagon jumpers.
My Japanese vinyl copy plays of couple of extra cruel tricks, to the album’s detriment. It seems to be mixed to give the impression that Blondie were a vocal and percussion duo a la Siouxsie’s Creatures, with any other instrumentation on the album sounding as if it’s leaked in accidentally from an adjacent studio. It also adds the deathless perfection of “Heart Of Glass” and “Sunday Girl” as bonus tracks, only emphasising the thin gruel of the main feature.