Monday, August 7, 2017

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #76 - Blondie - Parallel Lines (1978)

Blondie is that most unlikely paradox, a polished punk band. Emerging out of the New York punk/new wave scene, the band started out raw enough, blending aggressive modernism with sweet girl group-inspired melodies. But with their third album under producer Mike Chapman, they reached a level of professionalism equal to their energy and creativity.

Reportedly, relations between Chapman and the band were not especially friendly. He demanded perfection from a group that was used to knocking out sessions in a couple of loose takes. The resulting friction resulting in Chapman having instruments occasionally thrown at him by exasperated band members, but you can't argue with the results. Every note on Parallel Lines is as good as it could have been, with zero tolerance for sloppiness in any area.

The squeaky clean production highlights the essentially quality of the songwriting, and brings out the best in both the band and in Deborah Harry herself, whose instantly recognizable voice constantly rides the line between tender and tough. As her scowl on the cover photo suggests, she is not just another honey-voiced pop singer.

No one has a voice like Harry, and she uses it very adeptly. One Way or Another, about a stalking experience, would have the potential to be very repetitive, but she sings the chorus a different way every time. She growls and coos with equally potent effect.

What makes Blondie stand out among their peers is that, while the anarchic energy of fellow New York punk acts is present, they can't seem to help writing irresistible pop hooks. Picture This and Sunday Girl have killer ones, and Just Go Away is built around not one, but three hooks that other bands would give their bassist for.

Elsewhere, the band gets playful, transforming a Buddy Holly love song into a bratty punk anthem, complete with the obligatory rock and roll scream, and experimenting with disco on the album's most famous song, Heart of Glass.

Blondie is neither as hard as most punk bands nor as poppy as many New Wave acts, but their strength lies in combining the best parts of both genres into a tight and polished whole, that balances every sarcastic snarl with a shy smile. Parallel Lines represents the band at the height of their powers, both as songwriters and as musicians capable of delivering a professional product, even as they continue to have raucous fun.

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