Plastic Letters

Blondie

Chrysalis Records, 1978

http://www.blondie.net

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/23/2010

Following the success of their eponymous debut in Australia and Britain, Blondie took flight and toured both lands, winning the praise of thousands who turned out to see them and gaining momentum that unfortunately died when they touched down back home in the US, arriving to very little fanfare, if any at all. After a short break, bassist Gary Valentine decided he’d had enough and promptly left the group prior to their booked sessions to start work on their all-important second album. Chris Stein would handle bass duties until eventual replacement Frank Infante was hired before the group set out on the road again. 

Although Blondie would conquer their homeland with their third album (Parallel Lines, also released in 1978), the material on Plastic Letters was strong enough to do it, and why it didn’t break them is still a mystery to many. It did, however, do the job in Australia again and the UK, but really took off all over Europe when Harry delivered a cover of the ‘60s pop ditty “Denise” as “Denis” sung in fluent French. It’s one of several highlights to be found here, as is the Valentine-penned “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear,” which is a great throwback to the sounds of the ‘60s.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Fan Mail” is another strong track that should’ve been a hit. The group’s penchant for the paranormal reared its head for the first of many times with “Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45),” an ode to many a craft that has disappeared over the infamous triangle. The urgency of “I’m On E” recalls days spent altering one’s mind with great effect; Harry’s insane delivery is perfectly suited. 

“Detroit 442” is the hardest rocking song on the record and it shows an edge that Blondie sharpened over the coming years; I’ve seen them live several times and they can rock as hard as the best of them when they want to. Stein’s crazy “Youth Nabbed As Sniper” is a cunning social commentary that’s a tad scary in reality, but makes for great music. Harry plays the romantic songbird to great effect with “Love At The Pier” and a slightly twisted version of the same persona with a frantic reading on “I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No.”

Jimmy Destri contributed two great songs with the moody “No Imagination” and the blues-influenced rocker “Kidnapper,” which is my personal favorite on this record.  Blondie close the album in style with “Cautious Lip,” which musically is very outer-space-like, if that makes sense, and although the lyrics are pretty straightforward, it’s a great twist to end the album on. 

Although Blondie wouldn’t make it big until late 1978 with Parallel Lines, all the energy and charm on that record started here with Plastic Letters. This is moody and dark in places and is a much more varied work than any of their early albums; it actually has more in common with their more recent offerings of the last decade or so.  Plastic Letters remains a fresh and wholly eccentric body of work that still perfectly articulates the time and place that it came from.

Rating: B+

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