Pop: Still a hit girl after all these years

BLONDIE

CITY HALL, NEWCASTLE

IT IS a disconcerting reminder of the onward march of time that, just as policemen appear to get younger, pop stars actually grow old. Take Mick and Keith, their faces like candlewax dripping south in pursuit of their songs, or Bowie, whose actions are more Zimmer than Ziggy these days. And then there's Debbie Harry - or Deborah as she prefers these days - the punk goddess whose pouting, part-film star, part-hooker looks filled the dreams of many a teenager when Blondie first emerged back in the late Seventies.

As Ms Harry turns to the audience and flashes a smile, all thoughts of that ageing process are forgotten. Those eyes still betray the glint of someone who's seen far too much; the smile could still get her off a murder charge and you could hang the entire audience from her cheekbones. Not that this age thing should matter of course. However this is the nature of the comeback tour. The physical manifestation plays havoc with your memory playback. The nostalgia programme doesn't take kindly to being rebooted with an older model. It's all too close to home, reminding you of your own lost youth.

Blondie in 1998 are determined to show that life is back to normal and age is immaterial when you have the songs. And songs are something that Blondie never had a shortage of. Thus the band roll out the hits like boy bands and girl power never happened. Indeed it's a testament to the strength of these songs that they still stand up after all this time.

"Atomic" is Bowie's "Heroes" with a spring in its step, "Heart of Glass" the perfect marriage between Giorgio Moroder's motor-disco and punk rock's pop pretensions. With "Rapture", Harry's Grandmaster Flash-eulogising rap comes as a timely reminder of the part the band played in popularising hip hop - Chris Stein, the band's guitarist, co-wrote and produced the seminal hip hop film Wild Style - while the singer's scat interludes during the cod-calypso smash "The Tide is High" hark back to her recent critically acclaimed involvement with the Jazz Messengers.

Unfortunately, many of the arrangements are overdone by the band's zealous rockisms - bass solos, drum solos, guitar solos etc - and new songs such as "Maria" suggest that keyboardist Jimmy Destri thinks he's writing the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club, its Brat Pack sentiment and sugary melody paling next to the magnificently brooding "In the Flesh".

Back in 1978 Blondie opened for both the Ramones and Television on a tour that introduced their pop power to the UK. Not only were the country's youth-obsessed punk rockers seduced by the band's music but also shocked by the singer's age. She clocked in at an alarming 32, yet the "dead before we're 25" teens quickly elevated her to the status of icon. Twenty years later, both the songs and the singer ooze the "it" factor. Charisma, it would seem, is a lifelong thing.

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