I posted this review earlier this evening on the Sputnik Music website:
After a series of successful albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Blondie hit the skids with their 1982 release, The Hunter. It was a critical and commercial failure. Things went downhill from there. Guitarist Chris Stein was diagnosed with pemphigus, a life-threatening autoimmune disease. The band cancelled a scheduled European tour in August of 1982, and announced their official breakup three months later. Frontwoman Deborah Harry spent the next few years concentrating on her solo career (with mixed results), working on an acting career (again, with mixed results), and attempting to nurse Stein, who was her partner at the time, back to health. The other band members scattered to work on various projects of their own, and as the years passed, it seemed as if the world forgot about Blondie.
Times change, though, and by the late 1990s, Blondie had begun to be fondly remembered by many. In 1998, Athens, Georgia rockers The B-52's released a single called "Debbie", in tribute to Harry. And that same year, Stein and Harry, no longer a couple, but still good friends, reunited with keyboard player Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke to begin working on a comeback album. The result was No Exit. Released in February of 1999, this LP reignited the band's career. It charted across the world, reaching #18 on the charts in the U.S., and #3 in the UK. It also went Gold in the UK, a falloff from the Blondie's glory days, but still not bad for a band that had been out of the public eye for 17 years.
There are 14 tracks on No Exit, which span a variety of genres, including pop, reggae, country and hip-hop. The overall mood of the LP is playful, and somewhat tongue in cheek. The band sounds as if they're having a wonderful time playing together again, and their mood is infectious.
Much of the prosperity of the album can be credited to its lead single, "Maria". It's a bit of catchy ear candy -- likable enough, but far from the band's best song. Nevertheless, it did pretty well for itself, going Gold in the UK (and reaching #1 on the charts) and reaching Platinum status in Germany. It was less successful in the U.S., rising only as high as # 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, although it did hit #9 on the Billboard Dance chart. Another single, "Nothing Is Real But the Girl", also charted in the UK.
It's the album's deep cuts, though, that make No Exit the fun ride that it is. The title track, which Rolling Stone labelled "gothic hip-hop", (and which was named after an existentialist play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre) finds Harry trading raps with special guest star Coolio. The song plays at being dark ("Bye bye to another life"), but doesn't really take itself all that seriously. A couple of the other tracks come across as significantly softer -- "Forgive and Forget" is a wistful, romantic number that Harry seems to sing from the viewpoint of a Siren, while "Night Wind Sent" manages to be both poetic and flippant at the same time. "The Dream's Lost on Me", on the other hand, is an exaggerated country waltz, that finds Harry drawling, "I come out shootin' when trouble comes knockin'/I greet bad news by sending it walkin' ".
My favorite track on the album, though, is "Under the Gun", which sounds like a Hollywood Western. It's a song dedicated to the late musician Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who was somewhat of a protege of Harry and Stein. The song treats Pierce as a tragic Western hero, referring to him at various times as "Desperado", "Restless Shadow" and "El Diablo", and it has arguably some of the best lyrics on the album: "So sad you loved in vain/My comrades lost in battle/The music wars are done from London to Seattle/We all pay to play and all our yesterdays are starting over."
If The Hunter is the album that almost killed Blondie, No Exit is the one that brought them back to life. Nearly 20 years later, the band is still ongoing, thanks in no small part to the success of this LP. While it's not necessarily an album for the ages, it is a very good Blondie album.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars