The Curse of Blondie
Even if you thought 1999's No Exit a less-than-solid offering, you had to admire the way Blondie stormed back into the pop-culture spotlight with it. Then what happened? The Hunter, that's what. It's an album I can't comment on because, like everyone else, my attentions turned elsewhere the day after they came through town on the No Exit tour, and I never heard the damn thing.

By last year, Blondie's profile was once again so low in the States that The Curse of Blondie wasn't even released here. It took six months to find an American label to put the album out. Sanctuary finally stepped up, and while the rising imprint does have some quality names on its roster, the rest of its catalog proves fairly conclusively that they'll do a record with anybody who was halfway popular in the '80s — Dio, Queensryche, Anthrax, Sammy Hagar and Morrissey all call the label home.

Maybe Sanctuary should've read a little more into The Curse of Blondie's failure to see U.S. distribution from another company. The record isn't a total disaster — almost, but not quite. It is, however, relentlessly mediocre, so much so that loyal older fans holding out for a renaissance will likely find listening to it unbearable. If they can even get past the miserable meandering rap of the opening track "Shakedown," that is. "Shakedown" is far and away the disc's worst tune, and what follows never completely recovers.

The bulk of The Curse attempts to apply elements of Blondie's "classic" style to various contemporary pop genres. The results vary from exactly two comparative highlights ("Rules for Living," "Background Melody [The Only One]") through a whole lot of uninspired filler ("Good Boys," obvious modern-rock radio bid "Undone," "Magic [Asadoya Yunta]," "Diamond Bridge") to "End to End," a plodding cut that nearly matches the dreck of "Shakedown."

Following "End to End," The Curse largely abandons Blondie's New Wave signatures, lapsing into a series of half-assed experiments in easy-listening electronica ("Hello Joe," "The Tingler"), heavy rock ("Last One in the World"), dense, jazzy Beat poetry ("Desire Brings Me Back") and last-call schmaltz ("Songs of Love"). It all ends better than it begins, but not by much — and, I've gotta say it again, it begins badly.

Blondie unarguably deserved their moment of buzzy re-emergence half a decade ago, on the strength of their enduring contributions to pop music if nothing else. This latest disc, however, leaves one with the distinct impression that the group is down to screwing around with whatever happens to be laying around on the worktable these days, and hoping it gels.

And mostly, it doesn't. 1/2


Board of Rejection
No Idea
While nurturing a lower profile than a few of their Gainesville peers (Hot Water Music, Against Me!), the rough-hewn trio Gunmoll nonetheless continues to churn out some of their hometown's best punk-scene rock 'n' roll. And while the band's newest full-length as a whole doesn't quite live up to the impact of their debut, Anger Management in Four Chords or Less, a large percentage of it certainly does. The opening "Less than You Hoped for" is the band's most infectious (and possibly best) tune to date, innately catchy without sacrificing heft. The obligatory out-and-out barnburners — including "Stained and Dyed Pretty," "Nowhere" and "Ryan Murphy's Song" — showcase Gunmoll's compelling penchant for imbuing anthems with a gravelly vibe and moody lyrical depth. That darkness also elevates excellent mid-tempo tracks like "Couples Skate" and "Apology of a Lifetime." Elsewhere, however, Board of Rejection attempts to fix what isn't broken, and in experimenting with more ambitious arrangements, riffs and interludes, occasionally loses the listener. Still, the disc delivers more than enough raucous, cathartic expression to make it worthwhile. 1/2


Gaucho (DVD Audio)
MCA Chronicles
Released in 1980, Gaucho marked the end of Steely Dan's golden years. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker broke up shortly after, then reunited in the '90s. Subsequent Steely Dan music has been tepid and antiseptic (the Grammy for Two Against Nature notwithstanding). Of course, some folks would say the same about old Steely Dan, especially Gaucho. (The liner notes claim that Gaucho was the first album to be produced using computer sequencing.) I would vehemently disagree. The production is crisp, no doubt — making it an ideal candidate for the DVD Audio treatment, which allows listeners to play the disc in 5.1 Surround Sound — but not sterile. The Dan's subtly propulsive rhythm tracks, slinky horn parts, gospel-esque backup vocals and Fagen's fine whine all burst from the speakers. The new mix does not resort to trickery, just clean, well-proportioned surround sound. The songs, all first-rate, are a mixed bag, from the breezy "Hey Nineteen" and "Glamour Profession" to the sultry faux reggae of "Babylon Sisters" and the brooding "Third World Man." At the top of the heap is the insidious title track, with its cagey narrative that sounds, to me, like an argument between gay men (you read it here first). "Who is this gaucho amigo/ And why is he standing in your spangled leather poncho/ And your elevator shoes/ Bodacious cowboys, such as your friend/ Will never be welcome here/ High in the Custerdome." Gaucho is cool, coy, ironic and obtuse. Let it engulf you. 1/2


The British Invasion 1963-1967
I lived through the British Invasion. It's what sparked my interest in music. As such, I found this three-disc anthology full of great songs, but lacking a certain logic at times. The producers cast a wide net, compiling an eclectic array of material released in the U.K. during '63-'67. To me, though, the British Invasion was also a sound — to some extent Beatles-inspired, jangly, and with vocal harmonies. Englebert Humperdinck's loping, country-esque "Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)" ('67) simply does not qualify on stylistic grounds. Neither does the Animals R&B remake "See See Rider" or Cat Stevens' ponderous "Matthew and Son" or Traffic's proto-psychedelic "Paper Sun." To qualify as British Invasion, a song also had to tap into the American zeitgeist of the time, which weeds out non-hits like The Silkie's version of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (although it's an extremely cool take) or the Small Faces' "She-La-La-La-Lee." A true BI song should be recognizable by its title, and there are plenty here that meet both criteria of style and profile: The Searchers "Needles and Pins," The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," The Zombie's "She's Not There," The Who's "I Can't Explain," The Hollies' "Bus Stop," Gerry & the Pacemakers' "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," and, well, I can't list 'em all. By now you're wondering where the Beatles are? Because another record conglomerate owns their catalogue, this set could only scrape up their version of the old schlock tune "Ain't She Sweet." But, hey, the collection still brims with terrific songs, despite such a liberal definition of what qualifies as British Invasion. —ERIC SNIDER

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