BLONDIE: PARALLEL LINES (1978)
1) Hanging On The Telephone; 2) One Way Or Another; 3) Picture This; 4) Fade Away And Radiate; 5) Pretty Baby; 6) I Know But I Don't Know; 7) 11:59; 8) Will Anything Happen?; 9) Sunday Girl; 10) Heart Of Glass; 11) I'm Gonna Love You Too; 12) Just Go Away; 13*) Once I Had A Love; 14*) Bang A Gong (Get It On) (live); 15*) I Know But I Don't Know (live); 16*) Hanging On The Telephone (live).
In which Blondie go professional, and now there is no turning back — no more «young and innocent days» for you once you've passed through the skilled hands of Mike Chapman, master of glossy candy packaging whose previous clients included Sweet, Smokie, Suzi Quatro, and various other acts, intensely groomed and pampered for stronger commercial effect (Sweet were actually the best of the lot — most of the rest were like 100% unlistenable). Blondie's manager convinced them to team up with Chapman, probably hoping that he would be able to hone their best pop instincts without making them completely reject their identity — and on the whole, he was right: Parallel Lines is very commercial, but it does not betray the general spirit that the band had concocted already with its very first songs.
Still, there may be such a thing as «too much perfection», and this complaint does apply to Parallel Lines, as the guys, the girl, and the glossy LA producer so ardently hunt for the ideal sound and forget about some of the band's legacy. Unlike Plastic Letters, Parallel Lines is all about the simple things — girl-and-guys relations, with gender roles accordingly reversed (Debbie as the hunter and guys as the game — hell, look at the album cover alone, where they all look like identical dorks and she looks ready to bitchslap you in a moment). That's all very well and suitable and Blondie-compatible, but I do miss all those stories of kung fu girls and giant ants and Red Square spies and youths nabbed as snipers. Where did they go? Well, it's not that easy to make hits out of such ideas, so let us turn to more basic hormonal stuff instead.
But how is it possible to resist temptation when the first two songs on the album are ʽHanging On The Telephoneʼ and ʽOne Way Or Anotherʼ — one of the fiercest, most stunning guitar-pop attacks on the senses since the days when the Beatles roamed the planet? Debbie's a little funny in her attempt to be as sexually aggressive as possible, even going all the way to gather a little phlegm so as to roar out certain lines in both of these songs like some thunder-and-lightning black diva à la Tina Turner — but we can forgive her, because on the whole, she is being very convincing about it (or «about It», to be more accurate. Or «about Id», to be more Freudist). And then there is the music — the mad rush simulation of ʽTelephoneʼ, a perfect musical equivalent of blood boiling, and the unforgettable guitar riff of ʽOne Wayʼ, apparently written by the band's bass player, Nigel Harrison. ʽOne Wayʼ may, in fact, be one of the greatest blends of a typically hard rock riff with a typically pop structure — and, accordingly, the greatest emulation of sexual aggression paired with «pretty looks». Madonna got nothing on this, not even close — then again, who'd ever write a riff like that for the likes of Madonna?
The greatness never stops coming, because ʽPicture Thisʼ, while playing for the third time in a row on the same ideas (if she ain't gonna get this one, she'll get that one, or that one, or that one over there...), adopts a slightly different approach — a bit more lyrical, only gradually revving itself into overdrive, and it is every bit as effective, because sometimes subtlety works better than a straightforward assault. I've never really understood the temporal connection of the lines "I will give you my finest hour..." (future tense) "...the one I spent watching you shower" (past tense), but what sort of a regular male could resist Debbie Harry purring so tenderly reminiscing about watching him shower? Oh, yeah, well, uhm, the melody's quite catchy too, I guess.
All of which brings us a little bit fast-forward-style to ʽHeart Of Glassʼ, a song that actually began life as ʽOnce I Had A Loveʼ way back in 1975 or so, and which Chapman, from its early syncopated funky beginnings, developed to immaculate disco gloss. In retrospect, the song pretty much destroyed Blondie's reputation — most people who «don't care all that much» probably only associate the band with this song now, and while it certainly does capture some of the essence of Blondie fairly well, there is no way it could make you understand the whole story, or at least prevent you from mistakenly putting Blondie in the same boat with Donna Summer or any of those gazillion Eurodisco bands. But in the general context of all things Blondie-related, ʽHeart Of Glassʼ is, of course, still a masterpiece.
One word of warning to the neophyte, though — do avoid the relatively crappy 5:50 «disco version» with which the bandits at Chrysalis had replaced the original 3:45 cut on quite a few reprints, starting with a vinyl pressing in 1979 and ending with the remastered CD version, because this is a clear case of «longer» not being «better»: all you get is a never-ending repetitive loop of na-na-na's at the end, instead of the fabulous fade-out coda of the original — fabulous, because it featured a set of Clem Burke's most inventive drumrolls in history, as if the man wanted to show us that it was, after all, possible to be an expressive, musically-talkative drummer within a disco setting. That bit is just not there in the longer version, which is a travesty. At least they do not use the bubbly keyboards to hide the guitar riff, which is in itself a masterful blend of funk and pop — and, again, a perfect match for Debbie's vocals in terms of atmosphere: cynical disillusionment at its most light-hearted and «superficially superficial» (but really quite deep).
These mega-monster pop hits tend to swallow up the rest of the record, which is almost a shame, but that's the way life goes — only gradually you come to realize that ʽPretty Babyʼ and ʽSunday Girlʼ may be a little lighter and wussier in style, but are really just as strong melodically as everything else; that ʽFade Away And Radiateʼ, with its slow tempo, psychedelic keyboards, enigmatic drum beat, acid guitar solos, and somnambulic vocals, is not the «black sheep», but rather the «white swan» of this record, a moody masterpiece that is every bit the worthy successor to ʽCautious Lipʼ; that the Buddy Holly cover injects young punk venom into the old, somewhat limp rockabilly vein; and that, ultimately, at the very end Debbie gets so sick and tired of all her male counterparts that the only natural conclusion for the album is to tell them all ʽJust Go Awayʼ — when you come to think of it, a hilariously antithetical conclusion to ʽHanging On The Telephoneʼ. You mean to say, all that effort wasn't really worth it? I'm speechless...
Comparatively, I cannot say that Parallel Lines is more «consistent» than the other Blondie albums — the one thing that it is, it is more consistently aggressive. Louder, prouder, more forceful than the rest, with a small bunch of particularly flashy, irresistible highlights, a special chapter in Blondie history, but not necessarily «that one Blondie album you have to get if you only get one», because, well, just don't be stupid and get all of them. Major thumbs up, of course, and a major turning point, but Blondie existed before it and would go on to exist after it.