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Image Entertainment presents
"I will give you my finest hour / The one I spent watching you shower..."
DVD ReviewAh, "new wave." Even given the benefit of over 20 years of hindsight, this musical genre (or was it just a style?) is fiendishly difficult to pin down. It certainly wasn't punk, even minus the safety pins, three-chord songs and spitting, and it certainly wasn't the rock/pop hybrid known as "power pop." Perhaps it's best to just describe it as the music played by a certain set of bands that were listened to in the late 1970s and early '80s by a select group of skinny white boys in even skinnier ties. Oh, and a few girls too.
Unlike pornography, which some people claim to be able to recognize even if they can't define it, new wave isn't even necessarily recognizable. My coterie of die-hard new wave friends and I couldn't have cared less about defining the genre as such, but we were certainly obsessed with determining which bands fit into that category and which ones were to be excluded, and thus summarily dismissed. The Cars were definitely out—even though they had the requisite look, they were way too popular, and therefore suspect. The Jam were unquestionably in, with their natty suits and English cool. But Blondie were always a problem. No one disputed the band's songwriting skills or playing ability, and they certainly had the necessary irony and emotional distance, but too many of their songs were just a little too rock, a little too pop, or even a little too salsa/funk. And with the beautiful blonde Debbie Harry fronting the band, we were always afraid that Blondie's marketing campaign would be a little to successful, and that they would be wrested away from us by frat boys and mere rock fans. (Indeed, one early poster featured a picture of Debbie Harry and the caption "Wouldn't You Like to Rip Her to Shreds"). And oh the embarrassment of going to our favorite record shop to buy the 12" vinyl single of Heart of Glass, only to find that the sleeve was plastered everywhere with word "DISCO"!
But never mind the small world of our fanboy obsessions—in the real world, new wave started in the mid-1970s. While the Ramones, with their raw sounds and dumb cool were showing the Sex Pistols how to do punk rock, the underground punk/new wave scene in New York City was in full swing, with such bands as Talking Heads, Television, the Dictators, and, of course, Blondie, tearing up the stage at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City, and tearing up the critical press as well. It was a time of musical foment, of musical revolution, and while few of the bands achieved real commercial success, they changed the music scene forever, and continue to inspire new generations of fans.
But Blondie was successful both critically and commercially. Their eponymous first album made them critical darlings, and 1978's Plastic Letters spawned their first chart success, a #2 single in the UK. The following year, Parallel Lines brought in not only the cash, but #1 singles in the UK and the US (the aforementioned Heart of Glass). Both 1980's Eat to the Beat and 1981's Autoamerican went platinum, with #1 singles on both sides of the Atlantic. But the band suffered personal turmoil, Harry's first solo album was soundly derided, and it was pretty much all over by 1982...until the band's reform 16 years later, when the smash album No Exit put them back at the top of the charts.
Blondie (the DVD) was shot live in Glasgow for the BBC program Old Grey Whistle Test in 1979, at the near-height of their popularity. It's a great—if brief—package, showcasing many of the band's hits, with the songs drawn equally from Parallel Lines and Eat to the Beat. The camerawork is fairly good, and someone had fun with the video mixer, overlaying long shots with close-ups, and even doing cheesy revolving oval-shaped inserts. The framing is occasionally clumsy, and it's obvious that one of the cameramen was a Debby Harry fan, because he sneaks in a close-up of her posterior. The band is at the top of their form, and it's difficult to pick a stand-out track here, but for this reviewer the highlights are Pretty Baby (even if Harry sometimes has trouble finding the notes), Atomic, and the nearly six-minute version of Heart of Glass. Only about 20 seconds of Eat to the Beat are included before the band switches to Picture This (although only the former can be chosen from the chapter menu), and the final song, Sunday Girl, which features surprise guests, annoyingly fades out mid-song.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Recorded on video, the image is mostly good, with reasonably accurate colors that showcase drummer Clem Burke's shiny gold suit and Debbie Harry's yellow and red costume. There are some minor imperfections caused by limitations of the source video, but the only real annoyance is light horizontal bands that show up against the dark backgrounds.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel sound has reasonable separation, although it's not a surround track, so don't expect any activity from the rear speakers. For a video recording, there's quite a bit of dynamic range, although the high end occasionally sounds harsh. There are no serious problems here, and nothing that gets in the way of one's enjoyment of the music.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: There's a chapter selection screen. A plastic keepcase. A printed jacket label (in color!). The lettering on the DVD label is pretty cool. And they didn't misspell "Blondie" anywhere.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThis too-short 1979 concert captures new wave favorites Blondie at the height of their career. The video transfer and sound are about as good as can be expected, given the vintage of the recording, but there are no extras.
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