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Sunday, February 14, 1999 Published at 09:29 GMT

Entertainment: New Music Releases

CD Review: Blondie

Blondie: No Exit (Beyond)

They don't make 'em like they used to.

Debbie Harry, the bunny-girl turned punk-pop princess, would have difficulty squeezing into her old costume these days, but she's still leaps and bounds ahead of her imitators.

Inevitably the cracks - and sags and bags - are beginning to show. But at 53, she's got the twinkle of old in her eyes and her vocal range has only been slightly dampened by the passage of time.

Twenty-one years on from Denis' dazzling arrival in the top 10 and you could have forgiven Blondie for sticking to the tried and tested formula - writing a few new songs and padding the album out with old B-sides.

Instead, they've gone for broke and just about got away with it. Fourteen new tracks, more than a hint of experimentation, but retaining enough of the original flavour to keep the oldies sweet.

Sounding like Mrs Dracula

[ image: Blondie as they were]
Blondie as they were
As opener Screaming Skin kicks in with a devastating drum roll from the dashing Clem Burke, you could be forgiven for thinking you have put on Madness comeback album by mistake. The friendly ska beat takes on a more eerie air, though, as a deep-voiced Debbie comes in sounding like Mrs Dracula in need of a swift half pint.

She vamps it up again on the full-to-bursting title track, which begins with the opening bars of Bach's Toccata, drops in on I Love Rock'N'Roll and eventually turns into Gangsta's Paradise. "Bye-bye to another life," she sighs as a snippet of the Inspector Gadget theme wafts throught the speakers on the back of an Iron Maiden guitar solo.

Bizarre yet beautiful, it reflects the general mood of the album - dark and downbeat, with chinks of light appearing now and then to remind you of the good old days, when the guitars were more surging and the vocals much sweeter.

The number one single Maria falls into the latter category - standard, chugging punk riff, a solid drumbeat and powerful chorus that proved good enough to rekindle Blondie's love affair with the top spot - 19 years after their last visit.

Nothing Is Real But The Girl sees them at their familiar, brilliant best, but it is Under The Gun that really steals the show. Debbie rediscovers the voice of an angel and joins the rest of the band in dream state.

"All our yesterdays are starting over," she observes. She's right, Under The Gun would not be amiss on Parallel Lines or Eat To The Beat and it's certainly going to earn them a few dollars more when they put it out as a single.

Run-of-the-mill - but not pedestrian

[ image: Debbie Harry: Can still vamp it up]
Debbie Harry: Can still vamp it up
As for the rest, it is a bit of a hotch-potch. There is the tribal Forgive And Forget, the reggae groove aptly named Divine, the waltzing Pogues-like Dream's Lost On Me and ZZ Top tribute Happy Dog.

It is fair to say a few tracks are run-of-the-mill by Blondie standards. But even the more pedestrian efforts knock the stuffing out of almost anything you can see on Top of the Pops these days.

And at least the inter-band wrangling that drove such deep divisions between them in years gone by has now been sorted out, although Out In The Streets spews out the line: "He don't hang around with the gang any more, he don't do the wild things that he did before..." - a passing reference to Frank Infante, perhaps?

The knockers will no doubt be sharpening their knives, but this is a record that had to be made to put the tin lid on a glittering career, following the diappointment of The Hunter, their last album.

Okay, they will never recapture the zest and naivety of 1978, but then nor will anyone else. However, No Exit has certainly not left them with egg on their faces, and for that we must all be thankful.

Chris Charles

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