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

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

Few would argue against Blondie as a band deserving of a full recap of their eclectic and extensive career. Unfortunately, that’s not it.

As the title clearly indicates, these eight discs cover only the first part of the production of the New York group, essentially 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 revamped setup to continue where they left off. This renewal remains, at least until 2017 pollinatorthe most recent recording of the outfit.

Few of the songs they’ve recorded since that reboot have troubled the charts, but each album had at least a few keepers worth picking for a full look at the band.

Either way, this compilation features remastered versions of all six Blondie albums recorded during the titular period, adding 36 previously unreleased tracks over its long multi-disc runtime. Add demos, remixes, snippets, basement recordings, and more. Like most quality box sets, there are wordy essays and detailed liner notes, track-by-track commentary, and tons of rare, fleeting photos spread across a lavish 144-page booklet plus another 120-page discography, the all housed in a sleek package. It’s hard to imagine any fan, at least of Blondie’s initial rise, wanting more. “Extravagant” is the word that comes to mind.

The New Yorkers have traveled a meandering musical path from the retro girl band/spy movie artifacts of their 1974 debut, eventually expanding into rock, disco, pop, punk (even punk-pop), reggae , tropicalia, and rap (“Rapture” was, by most, the most popular early rap song) before trailing off with the disappointingly disjointed The Hunter in 1982. It was an impressive, influential, and often hugely diverse run.

As with any collection of this size and scope, there are some gems in the previously unavailable music mixed in with plenty of plush and items that most are unlikely to return. That’s especially true of a treasure trove of homemade tapes, one of which has vocalist/vocalist Debbie Harry singing “Ring of Fire” over cheap, primitive keyboard accompaniment. A few “synth mixes” (remixed instruments with dated synthesizers) will challenge all but the toughest to play them in their entirety. Only the most dedicated, or those with a glitter ball in their living room, will latch onto the 10-minute disco mix of “Rapture.”

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

For them, the voluminous and informative liner notes, which trace Blondie’s story from those who lived it, rarely seen photos and specific commentary, will be worth lightening their bank accounts. Others less dedicated may want to exercise more caution.

Photo credit: Shig Ikeda / Shore Fire Media

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