London Royal Festival Hall

Two decades ago, [a]Blondie[/a] ruled the post-punk charts....

Two decades ago, [a]Blondie[/a] ruled the post-punk charts. Ice-cool New Yorkers with an arch Anglophile sensibility and impeccably trashy glamour, they took smelly old rock down to Studio 54 and helped introduce rap to mainstream audiences. Debbie Harry was the punk Madonna, the disco Deneuve: ageless, immortal, iconic. Now she’s just two years behind Mick Jagger and, judging by their recent tour, the partially reformed [a]Blondie[/a] are reverting to their bar-band roots.

Thus the key question with this, their first album since disintegrating acrimoniously 17 years ago, is not how grand the triumph but how grisly the tragedy. And the answer, happily, is not too grim at all. In terms of diminishing the band’s legacy, ‘No Exit’ doesn’t shoot itself in the foot too many times. There is skinny-tied noo wave aplenty, albeit a trifle thicker around the waist and greyer at the temples than 20 years ago. Some familiar [a]Blondie[/a] hallmarks are revived, like the galloping drum rolls, headlong choruses and crashing false endings of new single ‘Maria’ or the weightless neon-lit glide of ‘Under The Gun’, which finds Harry‘s legendary voice back on full-bodied, voluptuous, helium-high overdrive.

The feverish eclecticism which set [a]Blondie[/a] apart from so many of their post-punk peers is also here in abundance, from the herky-jerky bluebeat skank of ‘Screaming Skin’ to the thunderous tribal disco of ‘Forgive And Forget’ to the stomping metal-rap of ‘No Exit’ itself, a stylised urban drama featuring guest rhymes from Coolio. Alas, the trundling blues-funk of ‘Happy Dog’ and insipid cruise-ship reggae of ‘Divine’ smack of rootsy muso maturity, the very antithesis of [a]Blondie[/a]’s gleefully synthetic pop dream. But at least Tex-Mex waltz ‘The Dream’s Lost On Me’ is full of lonesome cowgirl wit and tequila-fuelled bravado: “I come down standing up when I’m thrown in the air”.

There is still just enough seductive poison and sassy swagger in Harry‘s deepening voice to carry off the sublime love-as-arson ballad ‘Double Take’ and the knowing Shangri-La‘s cover ‘Out In The Streets’. But ultimately, and crucially, ‘No Exit’ lacks the amphetamine urgency and effortless glamour of [a]Blondie[/a]’s prime. Admittedly it displays more spunk and cohesion than their final pre-split album, 1982’s ‘The Hunter’, but it still contains only teasing echoes of the audacious pop nous and sheer anthemic splendour of their unstoppable hit machine period. This is [a]Blondie[/a] as prosaic old lags rather than heroic young gods, their transcendent romance replaced by workmanlike competence. A grudgingly acceptable comeback, then, but one which cannot shrug off the mocking shadow of history.