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Friday, December 19, 2014

Blondie: The Hunter


1) Orchid Club; 2) Island Of Lost Souls; 3) Dragonfly; 4) For Your Eyes Only; 5) The Beast; 6) War Child; 7) Little Caesar; 8) Danceway; 9) (Can I) Find The Right Words (To Say); 10) English Boys; 11) The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.

Blondie's last album (before the reunion) continuously gets a very bad rap from fans and critics alike, and I am pretty sure that a lot of this has to do with Debbie's wig on the front cover (yes, please relax, that is not real hair, she would'nt have had enough time to grow so much since the cover of Autoamerican) — everything about that front cover screams Eighties, and then so does the music, and not altogether in a good way, you understand.

Objectivity seems to be on the fans' and critics' side, too: nobody wanted all that much to do the album, plagued as the band was with all sorts of personal troubles (not the least of which were Chris Stein's health problems), but they were still contractually obligated to get one more record out to Chrysalis, so, almost over their dead bodies, they had to get back to the studio, summon Mike Chapman to the rescue, and deliver something as «contemporary» and «relevant» as that trashy collective sci-fi look on the front sleeve.

On its own, The Hunter is indeed rather disastrous. Too many synthesizers, too much modernis­tic production, too many moments of meandering mushiness weighted against too few song­writing ideas. In the context of Blondie's usual output, it looks even worse — the more you think about this being the same band that did ʽOne Way Or Anotherʼ or ʽDreamingʼ just a few years ago, the easier that old cliché about the fall of the once mighty springs to mind. However, in the context of «Blondie's age curve» — the childhood of Blondie, the adolescence of Plastic Letters, the glorious youth of Parallel Lines, the ripe maturity of Eat To The Beat, the woe-from-wit old age premonitions of Autoamerican — the last record logically corresponds to respectable seni­lity, with a pessimistic nudge to it, and that is exactly the kind of expectation I have for it, and I am not at all being disappointed.

The Hunter is a moody, dark, dense album, with a bit of a «sonic jungle» feel to it, and a very natural one — you can easily tell things were not well, and there are no songs here that would try and mask this, presenting the band as something that they were not, at the time. One possible exception is ʽIsland Of Lost Soulsʼ, a superficially «happy» calypso dance tune that was released as a single, because, you know, it's frickin' Blondie, they need a «happy» single for all the happy people out there. Never mind that on the cover of the single they look just as gloomy and depres­sed as on the cover of the album (and Debbie sports a different wig), the single has to appeal to the average idiot dancer, whatever the problems. If you read deeply into the lyrics, you will see that they represent a troubled state of mind ("In Babylon / On the boulevard of broken dreams / My will power at the lowest ebb..."), but that percussion and that friendly brass section and the rambunctious whoop-whooping, that'll get you going anyway.

Outside of that, though, it is one picture of nightmarish decadence or anti-utopian futurism after another. On ʽOrchid Clubʼ, Debbie is cooing "where are you, where are you?" from under a dense thicket of tribal percussion, church-organ-imitating synthesizers, and groaning Fripp-style guitars; this is the first time we see the band so deeply depressed. ʽDragonflyʼ is a New Romantic-era epic rocker about some sort of futuristic drag race, with some clever guitar interplay between Chris Stein and Frank Infante as they impersonate the sci-fi racers, although the song is quite clearly stretched way beyond rational limits. And ʽFor Your Eyes Onlyʼ, following in the steps of Alice Cooper's ʽMan With The Golden Gunʼ, joins the league of «Bond Themes Rejected for Being Too Scary for the Average Idiot Viewer /Courtesy of Motion Picture Association's Opinion/» — not that it is very scary or anything, but its life-defying moody arrogance and lack of lyrical trans­parency do make it a rather suspicious choice for inclusion in the Bond spectacle.

All these songs really have their moments, but the two definite highlights on the album are ʽWar­childʼ and ʽEnglish Boysʼ — autobiographical tunes that might have felt more at home on any of Harry's solo albums, but ultimately, who cares? ʽEnglish Boysʼ, a nostalgic mind trip back into Debbie's adolescence, is simple, sweet, and tender, with a totally endearing chorus ("does it feel the same to you?..." is Debbie at her most seductively sentimental), whereas ʽWar Childʼ, pinned to a futuristic synth loop and electropop dance groove, turns to anger and self-defense as its basic emotional undercurrent — "I'm a war child, I'm a war baby / And that's the difference between you and me", as performed by the 1945-born Debbie Harry, sounds as authentic as it could have sounded in any type of heated argument between the protagonist and her imaginary antagonists (including, as the lyrics unflinchingly suggest, fans of the Khmer Rouge and «PLO lovers courting after the curfew» who «have the West Bank blues» — oh, what is this, rightist senti­ments in one of America's most progressive bands? crucify 'em!).

Additionally, the album ends on a moodier-than-moodiness-itself cover version of the Marve­lettes' ʽThe Hunter Gets Captured By The Gameʼ — as Blondie's final song for the next two de­cades, I'd like, of course, to take it double-metaphorically, reflecting not merely the imaginary story of a vamp falling in love with her victim, but the whole story of Blondie, a band catapulted by fate into an unlikely whirlwind of commercial success and public acclaim, and ultimately de­stroyed by their very own fortune. Maybe they had that additional meaning, too, which is why the song sounds so sad and poignant, clearly more important here to Debbie than it ever was for the Marvelettes themselves, or Smokey Robinson, who never dreamed about any such third layer of semantics when he wrote it.

Of course, there are throwaway songs here as well, like ʽThe Beastʼ or ʽDancewayʼ, of which I cannot tell you anything interesting, except that they, too, good or bad, are permeated with a sense of dreariness, tiredness, and uncertainty of where to go from here. This «dark gray» atmo­sphere, best correlated with some ugly late autumnal panorama of dirty skies and sickly slushy rain, is, I think, what turns people off this record even more than its lack of quality melodies. But in reality this musical ugliness has every reason to exist alongside the colorful rainbows of Blon­die's past — in fact, has a somewhat perversely thrilling reason to exist that-a-way — and there are still enough quality melodies here to guarantee a low, but honest thumbs up from me, im­plying that the original Blondie were so talented that they never really made a bad record per se, they just made a final one that seriously smells of antidepressants. And do not even try judging it objectively before you hit your midlife crisis or something like that.

1 comment:

  1. Great review of an oft-maligned record. In my opinion, it's as flawed as any Blondie LP but not more so.

    One thing to consider here is the proximity of this LP to Harry's Koo Koo, a solo LP released in 1981. Harry was making a big effort to change her image to a more arty one for that LP -- the blonde hair is gone, and just check out those arty videos she made with HR Giger! Definitely not Blondie. But Koo Koo was a failure, and Harry needed Blondie again. That's why she needed a blonde wig for the cover and PR photos around the same time -- so that this was recognizably a "Blondie" record.

    As far as "Island of Lost Souls", it's an admirable attempt to make a sonic follow-up to "Tide is High". Admirable but unsuccessful.