Scant though they might seem, the four albums credited to singer/actress Debbie (Deborah on the latter two) Harry are plenty, thank you. For all the wonderful pop the New Yorker made with Blondie in the late ’70s, and despite enthusiastic support from collaborators like Nile Rodgers, Chris Stein and Mike Chapman, her frustrating search for a second conducive musical environment on which to found a solo career has yielded precious little of memorable substance.
Produced in Blondie’s waning days by Chic (a typical trailblazing move by Harry and Stein), KooKoo finds Harry out of her depth, straining to meet their rhythmic music halfway; at best, maybe a third of the record is moderately successful infectious funk-pop. Nicely organized (only with too much tinkly synthesizer) by J. Geils Band keyboardist/songwriter Seth Justman, Rockbird paves a pop path Harry can navigate, but the material is weak. “French Kissin,” which recalls Blondie’s playful charm, and the effervescent “I Want You” are the only keepers. Likewise, Def, Dumb & Blonde offers one handy reminder of Blondie’s surging ’60s guitar pop (“Maybe for Sure,” produced for old time’s sake by Mike Chapman) and one kicky love song (“I Want That Man,” produced by the Thompson Twins), but not much else worthy of its clever title.
Between the transparent Madonna pretensions, dance thrust and myriad of overseers, Debravation is a fast ride to nowhere. Harry’s singing is more assured and comfortable than ever, but the record has no destination, hopping around stylistic cubicles in tribute to the sounds that made Blondie famous: there’s peppy techno-bop (Arthur Baker’s “I Can See Clearly”), a rappy throwdown (Stein’s “Stability”), mushy elegance (Anne Dudley’s “Strike Me Pink”), rock-disco (“Rain”), noirish cinematography (“The Fugitive”) and punky guitar pop (“Standing in My Way”). Grabbing at genres like a rich kid filling bags in the candy store, Debravation can’t keep its hands off anything. “Communion” has a spirited “Like a Prayer” chorus; “My Last Dance (With You)” is a country oldie played here by R.E.M.; “Tear Drops” is straight-up doo-wop. Track by track, the amusement percentage is surprisingly high, but the album’s net effect is neutralized by its random eclecticism.
After serving (along with Freedy Johnston, Jeff Buckley, Mavis Staples and others) as a vocal guest on the Jazz Passengers’ In Love (singing “Dog in Sand”), Harry dedicated herself to performing with the group for several years in the ’90s. Otherwise, until the reunion of Blondie in 1999, she was more visible (as an actress) than audible (as a singer).
Once More Into the Bleach is a compilation of danceable remixes that differ significantly from the originals. Besides an assortment of Blondie hits, it features Harry’s solo “Rush Rush” (from the Scarface soundtrack) plus a handful of tracks from KooKoo and Rockbird. The Complete Picture is another compilation.