Friday, 1 June 2018
Blondie - Plastic Letters (1977)
Released February 1978
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City
In early 1978, when Blondie’s second album was released, fourteen months after their first quirky debut, they were still barely known in the UK (as opposed to in the US). Indeed, many bought their debut album AFTER buying “Plastic Letters”, now that they were familiar with the band. It was the hit single “Denis” that earned singer Deborah Harry a legion of teenage male fans and girls who admired her chutzpah too. Blonde hairdos emerged all over the place.
Punkier than the 50/60s-influenced debut, to be honest, “Plastic Letters" is a bit of a mish-mash of short, frenetic, organ-based guitar pop songs that often finish before they have even got going - classic examples are “Fan Mail”, the exhilarating “Contact In Red Square”, “Youth Nabbed As Sniper”, the intense “Bermuda Triangle Blues” and “I’m On E” (written about the drug ecstasy twenty years before its 1997 heyday). Just when you are getting into these songs, they end. Enjoyable, but nowhere near as accomplished as the songs that appeared a few months later on “Parallel Lines”. There again, two minute thrash punky pop songs were the order of the day, so nobody really complained at the time, thinking that indeed Blondie had their finger on the punk pulse. In many ways they had. In early 1978, this album fitted the prerequisites perfectly. The old “side one” contains the shorter, faster songs, while “side two” saw some longer, more introspective material. Listening to it now, it all sounds perfect. Better than I remembered it. “Kidnapper” sounds just like Suzi Quatro, though.
Regular girls found a way into punk via Blondie too, which previously had been difficult, unless they wanted to go down the Siouxsie Sioux route, which many didn’t. Here, by looking like Debbie Harry, they could get their punk kicks while not going the whole gothic hog.
The two hit singles from the album are top notch, however - the delightful power pop of “Denis” and the more mysterious “I’m Always Touched By Your Presence, Dear” and “Detroit 442” is a more complete rocky closer to the album.
An underrated, rarely mentioned gem is to be found in “Presence”’s “B” side, the lovely ballad “Poets Problem” - proof that punky ballads could be created. Retrospection has slammed this album as “the difficult second album”, but at the time myself and my peers and many others loved it. We heard tracks like “Fan Mail” and were more than satisfied. Songs like the surprisingly good “I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No”, the powerful “Beatles styled lyrics meets hard rock” of “No Imagination” and the rousing “Love At The Pier” contain hints as to what they next few months’ songwriting would yield from the band, however. Blondie were now one step from their period of brief greatness.