From the Vaults

Thought I Was Crazy When I’d Think About You: Blondie strikes back with the underrated “Plastic Letters”

blondie-plastic-lettersBLONDIE – Plastic Letters (Chrysalis ’77): Nobody likes Plastic Letters except for me. The Spin Alternative Record Guide gave it a 4/10. The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave it a 3/5. Allmusic gave it half a notch above Autoamerican. It’s generally considered a classic example of the sophomore slump—not as good as their eponymous debut and a lightweight in the face of its follow-up, Parallel Lines. But Plastic Letters is not short on good, spunky songs, continuing if not exactly expanding upon their glitzy and tacky version of punk and new wave, Debbie Harry belting about druggy romancers stalking their lovers. With the possible exception of the New York Dolls (and to a lesser extent Richard Hell and the Voidoids), that alone made them distinct among the CBGB crowd: Talking Heads were brainy art students, Patti Smith a mystic poet-in-the-making, the Ramones wannabe greasers, and Television guitarists with an avant-garde bent. Blondie were, at that point, attracted to pop trash, and Plastic Letters better displays that than Blondie. They irreverently recreated a semi-popular doo-wop ballad, “Denis,” with Harry partly improvising the French lyrics in spectacularly ungrammatical fashion. “Youth Nabbed as Sniper” is a POV tale of a teen ready to kill for love, the song title itself a sort of ripped-from-the-headlines evening news bulletin. There’s the spiritual precursor to “Dreaming” in “(I’m Always Touched) By Your Presence Dear,” and a poppy roadhouse blues ditty in “Kidnapper,” where the captor-in-question finds the teeny-bopper he nabbed to be annoying as hell. But the most underrated song is the opener, “Fan Mail,” which has somehow never made its way onto any decent Blondie best-of. It’s a song about a fantasizer in her room trying to come up with the right words to send her rock idol but can’t, in the meantime playing imaginary concerts to the posters hanging in her room, wondering what the cost—financially, physically, spiritually—would be to give it all up and try to be a rock star. On Blondie, the band were still trying to find themselves, not completely without attitude but not as confident. But on Plastic Letters, every song you can hear the strap of Debbie Harry’s dress slipping off her shoulder, not only because she’s trying to seduce you but because she’s had a little too much gin. She’ll snap her heels in half and smudge her lipstick on her glass before she dumps her drink in your face. She roars louder than the siren of the cop car on the cover. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s as blonde as Blondie ever got. And nobody likes this album. A MINUS

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