In 1979, iconoclastic rock critic Lester Bangs was commissioned to write an unauthorized fan book on Blondie. What he produced, of course, was a far cry from the dippy Tiger Beat mags usually associated with fan rags. Between off-topic rants that called out the new-wave emperor as having no clothes, Bangs posited that Blondie’s establishing metaphor — that is, rock as sex product, the group as detached pop robotniks led by vampy femme fatale — was unsustainable after the band’s overwhelming commercial success. By his logic, the ironic bite of Blondie’s biggest hit, “Heart of Glass,” is toothless once it becomes vogue amongst Studio 54 disco clones, and the campy flaunting of blonde bombshell Debbie Harry as a critique of sex product becomes self-parody after her sexuality actually ends up selling a boatload of records.
Or something like that. I’m willing to follow Bangs as far as conceding that Blondie never sounded as vital as it did before its mainstream success, but it always seemed rather fitting and purposeful to me that a subversively savage track like “Heart of Glass” became, as Bangs put it himself, “an anthem for the emotionally attenuated ’70s.” Where that song and its accompanying album, 1978’s Parallel Lines, sound like the perfect union of punk subversion and pop decadence, its follow-up, Eat to the Beat, originally released in 1979 on Chrysalis and now available in a reissued form via EMI, sounds admittedly like product, but still product of the finest class.
Skip the de rigueur disco exercises “The Hardest Part” and “Atomic,” no doubt conceptualized on the heels of Blondie’s club success. The anthemic “Dreaming,” probably the most remembered track here, and the ethereal “Union City Blue” are on par with anything the group ever recorded and instantly bring to mind the ’60s girl groups and Spector-size sound it was so adept at creating. Deep cut “Slow Motion” has an appealing Armed Forces>-era Elvis Costello vibe, and the bright two-tone of “Die Young Stay Pretty” is a clever display the band’s acid wit as they spit out lines like “deteriorate in your own time/ tell ’em you’re dead and wither away.”
This newly remastered edition adds a DVD of twelve goofy, pre-MTV videos of the band lip-syncing along to the album — check out Harry’s massive array of jumpsuits and the slick lookin’ kids the producers brought in no doubt mistaking them for “punkers.” Also, though the videos are nice, the covers of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” from the 2001 Capitol reissue will be missed, and the disc also strangely cuts out the pleasant, if slight, “Sound-A-Sleep.”
Eat to the Beat would essentially mark the end of Blondie’s creative period, but you could hardly fault the band as being the only new-wave act to peter out at the dawn of the 1980s. Outside the brilliant rap-pop fusion of the “Rapture” single, the group disappeared as a musical force as other artists, most notably Madonna, swiped their musical and visual cues to produce an influential chunk of the Reagan-era pop landscape.