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Blondie | Blondie / Plastic Letters / Parallel Lines / Eat To The Beat / Autoamerican / The Hunter (Chrysalis)
A lot of this stuff is locked in its time and if that was your time then such sweet nostalgia comes in pleasingly cheap at around £10 a throw and that's with original artwork and then some - remastering, live and studio bonus cuts.  That Blondie had taste and knew their pop history is clear from the outset and that means reflecting what's cool - 1950s attitude, Phil Spector, 1960s song stylings and garage rock (but played with polish) and rejecting what's not - prog rock and the Abba house of fashion. The eponymous debut had many of the group's trademarks already in place: the cheesey organ, the hand claps and Debbie's vaguely in tune voice but the only hint of great things to come is the shimmering In The Flesh which sounds like an ancient Phil  Spector song.  'Plastic Letters' is a lot of fun, the kind of immediate gratification that rock and roll should be, you know Beatles, Kinks, Beach Boys and all, give us it all in under three minutes or we'll blow you out. Some commentators have recently said that Blondie are just a great singles band and beyond the singles the album cuts are vast swathes of filler. 'Plastic Letters' is a whole lot more than its admittedly great singles (the 50s throw back Denis and the classy Presence Dear) as well as a big step up from the first album. A few classical keyboard breaks notwithstanding, the sound is more robust and beefy and the songs are really durable; the American punk styling of Contact in Red Square and Detroit 442, the almost English punk styling of I'm on E (no not that E) and the impressive Bermuda Triangle Blues.  The arrival of new producer Mike Chapman coincided with the creation of the group's best songs on 'Parallel Lines' which has sold trillions and is, I suppose, one of the greatest albums of the 70s. A pop sensibility is at work here with a brighter sound and even the first appearance of a disco thing on Heart of Glass.  Chris Stein's and Debbie's initial flirtation with disco exhibited fine artistic judgment but things kind of went down hill with the onset of that tastelessly styled party I call the 80s.  'Eat to the Beat' does contain some really big hits and the odd beautiful song like the mournful Shayla but, as Chapman's liner notes seem to suggest, the life of excess that the band had begun to enjoy may account for several poor compositions. The live bonus tracks, notably a pointless Seven Rooms of Gloom and an embarrassing Heroes do nothing to boost the package.  The final two records will only be listened to once unless you play them outside terrorist strongholds at tremendous volume.  An early foray into rap or proto-rap on Rapture from 'Autoamerican' is, er, quite sexy but 1940s style crooning songs are self conscious mistakes whilst the tracks in a more general, new wave band style like T Birds are truly third rate.  'The Hunter' must have been painful to make. The eighties cover art should be trusted to give a fair idea of the shameful contents.  Even the singles, War Child with its posy rock attitude and disco/dance production and Island of Lost Souls with its horrible calypso drums/arrangement suck big time.  Don't remember them this way.

Stephen Ridley
November 2001