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Music Review

Deborah Harry: 'Necessary Evil'

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Deborah Harry: 'Necessary Evil'
Released on Monday, Sep 17 2007

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to figure out why Debbie Harry's solo career never really took off: the iconic blonde was simply too good at playing the frontwoman. When you've cut an imposing, strikingly beautiful figure at the forefront of the best singles band of your generation, wherever do you go next? Her post-Blondie solo career yielded four albums and a couple of fruity hit singles ('French Kissin’ In The USA' and 'I Want That Man'), but the platinum blonde never came close to matching the halcyon days of Parallel Lines and Eat To The Beat. Next time Harry hits the road, audiences will doubtless storm the stage if 'Atomic' or 'Heart of Glass' aren't given a live airing, but would anyone bat an eyelid if, say, 'Sweet and Low', a number 57 hit in 1990, were omitted?

Necessary Evil, her first Blondie-free outing in 14 years, feels like Harry's last gasp for solo glory. But this rambling, wilfully eclectic 17-song opus, which runs the musical gamut from industrial rock to noodley jazz, is more than a vehicle to remind the world that the queen of new wave - now 62, bless her - still exists. Harry is on vital form, reigniting the spirit of CBGB's on 'Whiteout', putting the sex into sexagenarian over a squelchy electro backing on 'Dirty and Deep', and coming over all vulnerable on ‘What Is Love', a pretty, shimmering ballad. When Harry admits that she’s never quite got to the bottom of this romance lark – "Yesterday I knew what it was… Today I’m not so sure," - it’s a remarkably poignant revelation from a woman who, for the best part of a decade, could pretty much have bagged any man on the planet.

Perhaps inevitably, Harry’s willingness to experiment comes at a price. The clattering industrial rock of 'Deep End' is as turgid and dated as a seventies porn film, while 'Paradise', a shapeless mass of eighties wine bar jazz, houses a sax solo so repulsive that even Sade would be inclined to cock a snoop. And when Harry reveals that the "devil’s dick is hard to handle”, on ‘School For Scandal’, it’s tempting to shriek at the speakers: "Well put it down then! Nobody asked you to pick up the bloody thing in the first place!"

However, for every botched pop experiment, cringe-inducing lyric and dubious musical U-turn, Necessary Evil features a life-affirming nugget in the vein of 'You're Too Hot'. After a warbled a cappella intro which sounds like an outtake from an old Spector session, this pop firecracker lurches towards the left-field with an incendiary amalgamation of frantic garage drumming, distortion-shrouded guitars and chants of "Don't touch me, you're too hot". It’s both a neat summation of this album, and Harry's career at large, in its compelling fusion of the pop and the avant-garde.

Debbie Harry's solo comeback is flawed, disparate and, at a shade over an hour, in need of some judicious editing. But, even at its most frustrating junctures, you can’t help but admire its auteur for producing an album this adventurous – Necessary Evil is packed with more ideas than James Dyson’s notepad – as she settles into her seventh decade. The old adage that ain’t nothing but a number has never rung so true.

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