Shakedown: Blondie’s “The Curse of Blondie” Turns 10

LP Cover to The Curse of Blondie

LP Cover to The Curse of Blondie

The Curse of Blondie, Blondie’s eighth studio project, and second “comeback” effort, has become a bit of a misunderstood album. Focused and vigorous in ways that 1999’s No Exit was not, it received a fair amount of mixed opinions upon release.

Did the negativity have merit or was it the same type of critical static the group had faced as far back as “Heart of Glass” and Parallel Lines (1978)? Proving that rock was more a state of mind than necessarily a permanent soundbed (read: prison), Blondie’s unconventional approach to punk, power pop and new wave has always drawn detractors and spectators. The Curse of Blondie continued that tradition without missing a beat.

The History

Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar, bass), Jimmy Destri (keyboards, synthesizers) and Clem Burke (drums, percussion) were again the central nucleus of Blondie that kept the group’s brand substantial. After the modest victory won with No Exit, off the back its hit single “Maria,” work started on The Curse of Blondie after a move to the Sony / Epic imprint in the early 2000’s.

The sessions were produced by Craig Leon and promised to build on the “momentum” of No Exit; the tapes were withheld when financial negotiations broke down between Blondie and Leon. Thus the record had to start again. Taking advantage of this misfortune, Blondie switched gears and turned to Steve Thompson and Jeff Bova to produce. Additional writing contributions came from Romy Ashby, Craig Bartock, Leigh Foxx, John Vitale and Gretchen Langheld. It ended up as a wise decision for the band who not only regained the footing they’d lost, it resulted in another patented compelling / controversial Blondie album.

The Record

Taking into consideration that the last thoroughly satisfying record Blondie dropped was Autoamerican (1980), there were sentiments of unification and celebration on The Curse of Blondie missing from the two LPs that preceded it. Not at all a return to their ironic doo-wop-punk persona characterized on Blondie (1976) and Plastic Letters (1977), instead it sought to achieve the energy and fashionably ironic heights of Eat to the Beat (1979) and the referenced Autoamerican. Both of the latter recordings took to more pop-oriented playgrounds, but with their rough-and-tumble rock delivery it made those reconfigurations irresistible.

Where No Exit stumbled in acclimatizing to the sonic textures of popular music at the end of 1990’s, The Curse of Blondie embraced that contemporaneous shine that the first half of the last decade promised. That aura permeated Curse, whether it was the hypno-techno sitars that opened the off-kilter “Magic (Asadoya Yunta)” or the trembling keys that danced on “The Tingler,” Blondie seemed to be comfortable making use of studio technology without being subsumed by it here.

L to R: Burke, Destri, Harry, & Stein

L to R: Burke, Destri, Harry, & Stein

Indeed, the band was playing tightly as they’ve always done; the glistening, (if crushing) guitars courtesy of Stein led “Undone” and “End to End.” Burke’s drumming was the spine of “End to End,” keeping the arrangement driving without bludgeoning the listener; the programming, helmed by Destri, behind the nu-metal / rap bruiser “Shakedown” allowed its production temper to fluctuate with Harry’s snarled, sexy choruses and verses.

Harry’s voice, previously a rapturous blend of a purr and a coo, had aged finely into an authoritative, transfixing presence. Harry’s command of herself lent a siren quality to “Golden Rod”; “Songs of Love” made an allusion to Harry’s Jazz Passengers past with her voice snuggly intertwined with the smoky horns.

In vibe, Curse aligned itself closest to Autoamerican with its genre-hopping as three of its highlights demonstrated: the coquette, reggae construct (their fourth) “Background Melody (The Only One),” the rolling thunder of “Diamond Bridge” and the triumphant “Good Boys”. “Good Boys” was the lone number not produced by Steve Thompson, it was Jeff Bova’s only contribution to the record. “Good Boys” was one of those “Blondie moments” that could only be described as pure bliss and brilliance; from Harry’s alien vocal to a beat that keenly brought the disco and CBGB back together for the first time since “Heart of Glass,” “Good Boys” was one of their greatest songs cut.

The album did play a bit longer than it needed to; “Hello Joe” and “Desire Brings Me Back” easily could have been left off. They weren’t failures, but lesser b-side material that wandered and splintered the coherence of Curse. That said, Curse was smarter, sexier and wackier than No Exit. In other words, it was the follow-up Autoamerican deserved.

The Impact

Single Cover to "Good Boys"

Single Cover to “Good Boys”

Epic Records held claim to Blondie in the United Kingdom, that was where the album was released first. In a move that echoed Blondie’s origins, America received the album a year later on 4/6/04 (via Sanctuary Records) while Britain got the record on 10/13/03.

The first (and only) single serviced from Curse was “Good Boys”; the song featured mixes by production icon Giorgio Moroder. Moroder had worked with Blondie on their 1980 smash “Call Me” from the ‘American Gigolo’ soundtrack. The Scissor Sisters, a year from exploding onto the pop scene themselves, also contributed a remix for the single.

“Good Boys” placed at UK #12 and AU #37, barring those appearances the single didn’t find its legs. As such, no other singles were selected from the project. Curse met sagging chart sales globally: U.K. #36, ARIA #83, Germany #84, U.S. #160. The subsequent tour for Curse came out on top, which made the commercial drop in pressure post-No Exit so curious. The music pundits opinions were unsurprisingly split too.

Jason Damas, of All Music Guide, gave a fair perspective on the LP:

No Exit was a textbook example of everything a reunion album shouldn’t be — sloppily written, dominated by embarrassing attempts to sound current (especially the Coolio [!] duet in the metallic title track), and calculatedly commercial. So it’s no surprise that when Blondie decided to try again five years later — when Debbie Harry was actually old enough to be a Golden Girl, few were paying attention and The Curse of Blondie didn’t even get a U.S. release. But what’s shocking is that this, and not No Exit, is what should’ve been Blondie’s big comeback effort.

That isn’t to say that The Curse of Blondie is a classic Blondie disc, but it’s the first good one since at least Autoamerican, and features one of their best-ever singles in “Good Boys.” “Good Boys” is prime Blondie the way they should be — pulsing layers of synthesizers are punctuated by sharp guitar riffs and the whole prize is dressed up in an infectious hook that’s one part bubblegum, one part sexy chanteuse.

Adam Williams, of PopMatters, shared his thoughts on Curse’s weaknesses:

At first listen, The Curse of Blondie appears to be a futile attempt at covering all musical bases, including new wave, euro-pop, spoken word, rock, and even club rave. The album opens with the amateurish “Shakedown”, a song anchored by inane rap lyrics that more closely resembles a cheap Christina Aguillera track than anything Blondie-esque. Fortunately, the solid “Good Boys” and “Undone” follow, evidence that Blondie 2004 can still summon enough of its Blondie 1974 sensibilities to sound convincing.

Therein lies the problem: While the band retains the capacity to produce at a high level, the remainder of the album is punctuated by a veritable roller coaster of quality, resulting in a decidedly inconsistent effort. One moment the band is tearing through the hard-rocking, hook-driven “Last One In the World”, the next, listeners are being put to sleep with the mediocre “Songs of Love”, or left cringing at the trippy synthesized sonic squalor of “Magic (Asadoya Yunta)”.

The recent ageist bomb often hurled at Blondie to “act their age” was hypocritical. Many chimed for the group to “hang it up,” but they also expected the group to make in-roads into current trends, some of which they helped define. It put the band in a catch 22 position. One can’t be timeless and create art. Art at its best is slightly messy after all, at least in the great Blondie style. But the lens through which art is viewed determines the affinity toward it.

“Good Boys”

Directed By: Jonas Åkerlund

The Curse of Blondie and its prophetic title held that the group couldn’t escape their past, but they weren’t afraid to find their future either. Unabated, Harry soldiered on to release her fifth solo album Necessary Evil (2007) before rejoining Blondie to issue Panic of Girls (2011) and the upcoming Ghosts of Download in 2013; Ghosts of Download is rumored to be Blondie’s swan song. The Curse of Blondie sadly ended up as Jimmy Destri’s last commitment to Blondie; it left Burke, Harry and Stein as the only original members standing. Currently, they’ve fleshed out the group with Leigh Foxx (bass), Matt-Katz Bohen (keyboards, piano) and Tommy Kessler (guitar).

Listening to Curse objectively one can hear a group pitched perfectly between looking backwards and forward. Despite a patch or two, The Curse of Blondie played as their most consistent album since Autoamerican. If Blondie is truly “cursed,” their only ailment is their impulse to create first and ask questions later. If that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I’m not sure what is. Rank: Semi-Classic

[Editor’s Note: The Curse of Blondie is in print and available physically and digitally. For current information on Blondie, visit their official site.-QH]



Filed under Alternative, Pop, Rock

2 responses to “Shakedown: Blondie’s “The Curse of Blondie” Turns 10

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