“Comeback” is one of those touchy words, like “new hair growth” or “botoxicating.” While artists are thrilled to come back after a dry spell, they’re not likely to fess up to the substandard work that knocked them off the radar in the first place. Prince won’t go near the C-word. And don’t expect return specialist John Travolta to ever admit that he made a film so laughably abysmal (Battlefield Earth) that it completely canceled out his 1994 comeback.
Blondie hardly had time to wear out their welcome. Amid internal squabbles, mismanagement and Chris Stein’s lengthy bout with a rare skin disease, Blondie imploded in 1982, leaving behind a disappointing final album (The Hunter) and a lot of canceled world tour ticket stubs. The brand name that enjoyed four No. 1’s in 24 months stayed dormant and, after too many years of Madonna, fans really wanted a Blondie comeback. They’d have to wait until 1999 when the group released No Exit. Luckily, No Exit spawned a surprise hit, “Maria,” that gave us a taste of what Top 40 used to be like.
“We knew we had to do new music. We couldn’t just come out and do greatest hits and be successful,” says Chris Stein about the last effort, adding that the band got spoiled having “Maria” be a hit right away.
“This one is more of a struggle. The radio situation in America is kinda crazy right now. It’s so rigid. This whole ‘American Idol’ thing is fucking horrifying. They want people that are this mass-produced thing, they don’t want anybody who’s original that has some kind of uniqueness.”
While the “American Idol” folks haven’t gotten around to butchering the Blondie songbook, Stein reveals, “They wanted Debbie to be on [as] a guest judge, but that would never happen.”
The fine, struggling new single, “Good Boys,” is a canny update of the band’s glossy Eat to the Beat era, except that it has Blondie collaborating with the guy from Better Than Ezra (whom Stein refers to as “the guy from Better Than Ezra”).
“This may be the Blondie album with the most outside collaborations,” he admits. “In the old days we would give the records to the record company and they would say, ‘Aww, we don’t hear any single,’ but then they would put it out anyway. The record companies themselves used to be more experimental because they didn’t have their act so together.”
Of the new album title (The Curse of Blondie), Stein says, “All bands have their own curse. This record took forever. One producer got changed halfway through, there was a whole pain in the ass with him and then the record company changed and the management went through all kinds of trips, then the fucking World Trade Center blew up, that was right towards the end of it. We were recording in my old loft in Manhattan and it was right there on the front lines.”
And there was that two-headed pain in the ass, namely the lawsuit instigated by the two ex-members of Blondie (Frank Infante, Nigel Harrison) not invited for the second go-round. When asked if he’s still hassled by the Blondie is a Lawsuit faction, Stein answers with a typical New York, “Yeah … nah! We just didn’t want to work with them. …”
The new album is more of a full comeback because it sounds like a band marshaling its strengths for the new millennium, like it wants to engage in a disco catfight with Supreme Beings of Leisure and win. The band has also tempered the eclecticism that made 1980’s Autoamerica a hit-and-miss affair, although it dabbles in jazz and there’s the requisite rap number. Those uncomfortable with Harry’s tentative rhyme-busting on “Rapture” will probably have a harder time with her Jersey housewife rap on “Showdown” — now more than ever she sounds like Rikki Lake’s mom in a John Waters movie.
When asked why Blondie is back, the answer is unfinished business, artistically and fiscally. “The first two years we made the most money, we had a sleazy accountant. He never paid our taxes. … We got horrendously ripped off.”
Those who still bemoan corporate use of the familiar Blondie sound to shill cars, phones and Sara Lee cake should remember that Blondie, with the help of Debbie Harry’s aloof sexuality, ushered in the era of corporate sponsorship when the band did commercials for designer jeans in their heyday.
“If we had enough money to say no to this stuff, maybe it’s one thing, but at this point we’re still hungry … and we sold 40 million records. I should be loaded.”
“Debbie got a lot of flack for selling sexuality, which is very ironic considering what’s going on now,” he adds. “Lester Bangs was bitching ’bout her showing her underwear onstage. If he only lived to see Britney Spears. I wonder what he’d say about that.”
Blondie will perform Tuesday, May 4, at Clutch Cargo’s (65 E. Huron, Pontiac); call 248-333-2362.Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]