Blondie, back in the bad old late '70s and early '80s, captured underground cool with the greatest of ease, bending gender with breakthrough single "Denis," blending rock with disco and rap for "Heart of Glass," "Rapture" and "Call Me," and plugging into reggae rhythms for "The Tide Is High."
Blondie -- which is what truck drivers shouted at bottle-blond singer Debbie Harry on the street -- was rooted in girl-group pop, punkish garage rock and new wave. Harry, a former Playboy bunny playing a self-aware sex bomb, fronted a group that initially included guitarist Chris Stein (her then-companion), drummer Clem Burke, bassist Gary Valentine and keyboard player Jimmy Destri.
It was an irresistible mix, one that resulted in a string of platinum albums and No. 1 hits, making Blondie a defining act of the era. The split came in 1982, as a result of personal conflicts and Stein's affliction with pemphigus, a potentially fatal skin disease.
It was a sad goodbye to a semisubversive band that had managed to conquer mainstream pop. Harry released solo albums, acted in "Videodrome," "Hairspray," "Heavy" and other independent films and in recent years has been singing for the Jazz Passengers. Burke became a busy session player, Destri got involved in record production, and Stein recovered from his illness.
In other words, no one exactly segued into the kind of world-conquering success they'd experienced with Blondie. Still, why -- instead of leaving a solid reputation intact -- would Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri tempt fate with a reunion CD?
"Obviously, the money is very attractive," Harry, 53, told one interviewer. "And there is a bit of nostalgia amongst the band members. In a way, we never really finished it. It was left hanging in limbo."
That last sentiment may offer the best noncompromising motivation for the act's return. Blondie isn't exactly relevant to '90s radio, but the band's buoyant melodies, chunky guitars and throbbing beats more than compensate for a sound that occasionally comes off as dated.
On "No Exit," the CD released in late winter, Harry's voice is tougher and more expressive than ever, and her bandmates seem to have polished their chops over the years. Evidence might be offered by the radio single "Maria," a bouncy ode to infatuation; the rugged title track, featuring rapper Coolio; ska-tinged "Screaming Skin" (a reminder of the debt owed to Blondie by the likes of No Doubt); and the impressionistic "Night Wind Sent." Neat trick, this surprise rebirth of a band we didn't know we wanted back. Will it last? "Back then, being stuck in that Blondie character was irritating," Harry said. "But now I can deal with it better. I've got more distance and experience to get me through the night."