Monday, September 26, 2011

66 and Smokin'

Pioneering punk/new wave-cum-top 40 band Blondie is back after a 7-year hiatus with a very solid album, 'Panic of Girls.' Deborah Harry's voice - and presence - are as captivating as ever, not a bad trick for my 66-year-old neighbor (London Terrace, 23rd and 9th, one block west).

Oddly, I passed over the album's two solid singles to feature, as Song of The Week, the album's most charming song, a remake of (and huge improvement over) 'Sunday Smile,' originally by art-rockers Beirut.

'Sunday Smile' is a distant, more mature, cousin of 'The Tide Is High,' sharing its south-of-the border horns and Caribbean lilt - minus the xylophone and the camp. As with 'Tide is High,' they have lifted a unpolished gem from obscurity and rendered it shiny and effervescent.

Blondie is a sextet built around the songwriting and musicianship of Deborah Harry and her then-boyfriend Chris Stein. Though they never grew rich, Blondie's role as pop visionaries in music history cannot be understated. They were the first to mix new wave and disco with 'Heart of Glass', 'Rapture' was the first rap song many Americans had heard, and 'Tide is High' was fairly novel in mixing pop with reggae. They disbanded in 1982 when Stein fell gravely ill and Harry semi-retired to care for him. Harry never got far as a solo act, despite being role model for Madonna and a bevy of other tough-girl female singers. But she did re-group Blondie in 1997 with the apt argument: 'We have this incredible legacy, we'd be fools not to cash in on it..' But, not content to tour a nostalgic revue, the band cut a very credible comeback album in 1999 and followed it up with another in 2004. Like Blondie's current album, they work mostly in the genres they know, make an album that, while not cutting edge, is great on its own terms...

The lead-off single is 'Mother,' a song and video that rocks:

And here they are live, with their second single 'What I Heard...'

And here's Blondie way, way back when singing the tuneful and under-heard 'Sunday Girl'...

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