Debbie Harry

Chrysalis, 1981


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


It was inevitable that Debbie Harry would eventually tire of her Blondie persona and leave the band for a solo career. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t exactly pay dividends, though her fans were always going to be there for her. Her debut album certainly set an unsettling tone upon release back in 1981, especially when it came to the graphic H.R. Giger cover depicting four screws impaling Harry’s expressionless face. Was this music going to be shock rock à la Alice Cooper, or what? Actually, no. The interesting irony was that the material for Koo Koo was mostly urban funk produced by Chic’s main men Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Whether this was, in hindsight, a genius masterstroke or dreadfully misguided packaging is all a matter of perception. And confounding one’s perceptions – and expectations – is something Debbie Harry clearly gets a certain amount of pleasure in.

But as they say, no risk, no glory. While not as broadly appealing as the Blondie album that came before it, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Autoamerican, Koo Koo does manage to demonstrate Debbie Harry’s abilities as a clever songwriter and an expressive vocalist. The problem lies in the arrangements. From a purely musical standpoint, they are far too simple and sparse to make any kind of lasting impression. The production values are shockingly poor, especially when compared to other Nile Rodgers-helmed records like Diana by Diana Ross or Like A Virgin by Madonna, who just so happens to be the artist blamed the most for stealing Debbie Harry’s thunder.

Still, Koo Koo has its own special charms, especially when Harry’s humor is allowed to come to the fore, as it does on the solid opening track “Jump Jump” and the riotous “Military Rap.” Her love of reggae appears sparingly on the clunky “Inner City Spillover,” while the glowing ballad “Now I Know You Know” seems to point to her future as a part-time jazz artist in the Jazz Passengers. Personally, I favor the slow burn of tracks like “Chrome” and “Oasis.” The reason these two tracks stand out the most is because of their strong melodies. They are also the rare moments on Koo Koo that deviate from the repetitive Chic R&B formula. Something tells me they worked longer and harder on those two songs. Let’s face it, “Rapture” aside, Debbie Harry is simply not cut out to be a funkster. Punk, yes. Funk, not so much.

As for the singles, it’s also a dicey 50/50 proposition. The first at bat was “Backfired.” Use your imagination to guess how that one turned out. The title really says it all. The second single “The Jam Was Moving,” is much stronger when it came to its pop hook, but still only managed to scrape the lower regions of the Billboard chart, which by Blondie standards is a complete and utter disaster. With the failure of both singles and a critical mauling of the album as a whole, Koo Koo went down in history as one of the worst albums ever made. As the line in “Backfired” goes, “Vying for first, crying for last…just drop to a dead stop.” After another painful experience with Blondie for 1982’s “The Hunter,” Debbie would take a much needed break from music and try her hand at acting. It would actually be another four years before Debbie would dust herself off and bravely try again on the solo front. By then, the Top 40 landscape had changed. She would have to wait until the late ‘90s to recapture some of that old Blondie magic again.

Rating: B-

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis, and is used for informational purposes only.