No Exit

Feb 10, 1999 at 12:00 am

Blondie was never a group with a strong identity — aside from Debbie Harry’s fetchingly inadequate vocals — and so it’s no surprise that on this, its first album of new material in 16 years, the band sounds pretty anonymous. It’s true that in its very, very early days, Blondie’s brand of DIY kitsch exuded an influential proto-irony, but the Blondie that everyone remembers is the post-”Heart of Glass,” slick, grasping-at-straws combo — the little band that got lucky and then quickly ran out of ideas.

So this is that Blondie, a band which attempts to make its lack of focus a moot point by touching as many bases as possible, though always too lightly to leave any fingerprints. A lot of this sounds like generic contempo rock bloated by desperately elaborate production, but we also get da blooze by way of Deep Purple (“Happy Dog (for Caggy)”), rural — as opposed to city — country (“The Dream Lost on Me”), jazz, of a sort (“Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room”) and depressed metal with quotes from Bach and Grieg (“No Exit” — which also has, inexplicably, a brief appearance by Coolio).

Harry’s been warbling, rather effectively, with the Jazz Passengers these past few years, so you get the feeling she’s holding back most of the time here — though she does manage to show off her newly developed, kittenish jazz chops on “Boom Boom.” Otherwise, she sounds a little like recent Joni on “Night Wind Sent,” and, via dubbing, pulls off a cute, retro, girl-group move on “Out in the Streets,” where the elephantine production can be seen as a tribute to that emperor of bad taste, Phil Spector. Still, so much eclecticism with no context — how (and why) are we expected to care?