July 06, 2007

Still Atomic: Blondie's Eat To The Beat (CD/DVD)

The bombshell of the Bowery, Debbie Harry fronted one of music's most eclectic bands of the Punk/New Wave era. Blondie infused straight-ahead rock, punk, dance, and funk into an amalgam all their own. They’d reached the apex of their popularity by their third album, Parallel Lines. Yet, with their follow-up, Blondie proved they still had plenty of ammo in their creative coffer by unleashing 1979’s Eat To The Beat.

This reissue of Eat To The Beat, courtesy of EMI, comprises a digitally remastered version of the album as well as a DVD featuring the original promotional videos for all twelve tracks.
More brazen and slicker than its predecessor, Eat To The Beat comes across, even twenty-eight years after its initial release, as invigorating rock and roll. Clem Burke’s thunderous drumming sets the tone throughout while guitarists Chris Stein and Frank Infante, bassist Nigel Harrison, and keyboardist Jimmy Destri follow suit. 

The album’s two major hits, “Dreaming” and “Atomic,” still sound magnificent, with Debbie Harry’s silken voice booming above the swirling music. Songs like the title track and “Living In The Real World” evoke the band’s early rough and ready brand of punk, perhaps paving the way for a subsequent female-fronted band, the Pretenders. And the pulsating groove of “The Hardest Part” could very well put listeners into a Studio 54 fantasy funk.

Granted the nonexistence of MTV at the time, it’s hard to fault the lack of originality in Eat To The Beat’s accompanying music videos. Most of the promotional films are low-budget, lip-syncing performances, typically shot in a warehouse or on a soundstage, with scaffolding and audience extras used to fill the frame. The most redeeming quality of these videos, without question, is Debbie Harry. One of the most photogenic women in music history, Harry’s playmate persona and ballsy posturing look utterly luscious on film. Occasionally, as in the video for “Atomic,” Clem Burke grabs the spotlight for a few seconds with an exhilarating drum fill, but just as quickly, Harry again assumes her role as the film’s sexual focus. Stein, Infante, Harrison, and Destri serve their respective functions as musicians, but they are clearly not camera-friendly individuals, at least not at this point. On record, Blondie is a band. On film, however, the bleached bombshell steals the show.

This reissue of Eat To The Beat should mostly interest die-hard fans, specifically for the twelve video performances, which aren’t available collectively in any other package. Unfortunately, though, the videos fail to convey any context of what made Blondie such a fantastic band in their prime. So while the music on Eat To The Beat is essential, the videos ultimately serve as a mere screensaver for the songs.