Review: A Trove of Rarities Highlights Blondie’s First Band Approved Retrospective

Blondie: Against the Odds 1974-1982
(Ume/Numero Group)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Few would argue against Blondie as a group deserving a thorough recap of their eclectic and extensive career. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

As the title clearly states, these eight discs only cover the first part of the New York City band’s output, basically nine years of recordings for the Chrysalis label. After a sabbatical for most of the 80s and 90s, they returned in 1999 with a slightly rejiggered configuration to continue where they left off. That revival remains, at least through 2017’s Pollinator, the outfit’s most recent recording.

Few songs they have recorded since that restart have troubled the charts, but each album had at least a few keepers worth plucking for a comprehensive overview of the group.

Regardless, this compilation presents remastered versions of all six Blondie albums recorded during the titular period, adding 36 previously unreleased tracks over its expansive multi-disc running time. Add in demos, remixes, out-takes, basement recordings, etc. Like most quality box sets, there are wordy essays and detailed liner notes, track-by-track commentary, and tons of rare photos and ephemera splayed out over a lavish 144-page booklet plus another 120-page discography, all housed in a classy package. It’s hard to imagine any fan, at least of Blondie’s initial rush of stardom, wanting any more. “Extravagant” is the word that comes to mind.    

The New Yorkers traversed a winding musical path from the retro-girl group/spy movie artifacts of their 1974 debut, eventually expanding into rock, disco, pop, punk (even punk-pop), reggae, tropicalia, and rap (“Rapture” was, according to most, the first top-charting rap song) before running out of gas with 1982’s disappointing, disjointed The Hunter. It was an impressive, influential, and often wildly diverse run.

As with any collection of this size and scope, there are some gems in the previously unavailable music mixed in with a lot of fluff and items most are unlikely to revisit. That’s especially true of a trove of home tapes, one of which has singer/frontwoman Debbie Harry singing “Ring of Fire” over cheap, primitive keyboard backing. A few “synth mixes” (instrumentals remixed with dated synthesizers) will challenge all but the hardest core to play them in their entirety. Only the most devoted, or those with a glitter ball in their living rooms, will hang in for the 10-minute disco mix of “Rapture.”

Since all these albums have already been remastered and reissued with extras back in 2001, and still sound fresh, this pricey box (the full 8-disc package runs about $120 on CD, it’s more expensive on vinyl but a redacted, reduced price three-disc edition is also available) is aimed squarely at the super fan; someone who has the money and patience to re-purchase material they already own to hear the ample extras here.

For them, the voluminous and informative liner notes alone, which track Blondie’s history from those who lived it, seldom seen photos, and track specific comments will be worth lightening their bank accounts for. Others less dedicated may want to tread more carefully.

Photo Credit: Shig Ikeda / Shore Fire Media

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