Blondie, Plastic Letters

Ira Robbins

By Ira Robbins

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Plastic Letters


It's always unsettling for a band that has strong songwriters to find success with other people's material, but two borrowed numbers are all that separate Blondie's second album from being an accomplished dud. Paradoxically, as the album is otherwise much less in thrall to the past than the debut, someone (producer Richard Gottehrer, perhaps) had the genius idea of turning Randy and the Rainbows' doo woppy 1963 hit "Denise" into a cooing Gallic powerpop ode to the male "Denis." With Clem Burke drumming up a vintage-style storm and Deborah Harry at peak coquettish form, the song became the band's breakthrough single in the U.K., setting the stage for prouder achievements to follow.

Two borrowed numbers separate Blondie’s second album from being an accomplished dud

The other tune came from a more proximate source. As his parting gift to the band, departing bassist Gary Valentine left the group "I'm Always Touched by Your (Presence, Dear)," a great tune given a deliciously atmospheric and energetic arrangement. Otherwise, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and guitarist Chris Stein wrote most of the material, a haphazard set of tunes that don't define a sound or style. Unlike the first album's frivolity, the songs here dabble in pulp fiction ("Youth Nabbed as Sniper," "Contact in Red Square," "Bermuda Triangle Blues") but never go far enough. For her part, Harry co-wrote the syncopated "I Didn't Have the Nerve to Say No" and the racing "I'm on E" (which I have always assumed was about standing on a musical key rather than a prescient ode to taking ecstasy) and came up with the kicky "Love at the Pier" on her own. A woman's work is never done.