While “Union City Blue” alluded to Shadow Morton’s roots in the band’s world view, that song was certainly more of its time than a straight pastiche. Not so much for the fully retro “Slow Motion” with its bouncy James Jamerson bass lines and tambourine hits. Liza Minnelli’s half-sister, Lorna Luft, doubled here with Debbie on the strictly period backing vocals that simply sparkled. If it was good enough for Blue Angel [the following year], surely the NYC band that started it all can work that girl group action like the pros they were?
The last single in the program was the rock-disco hybrid “Atomic,” which topped the UK charts but only managed to muster a scant scrape into the US Top 40 at a lowly #39! The pressure packed Clem Burke drumming was served here by some of the most prominent bass on the album and incongruous on the surface of it, twangy guitar chords. Since keyboardist Destri wrote the music here, he finally got to cut loose with the synths on this track the most on this album. His Moroderesque envelope on the synth hook [possibly pulse gating and not a sequencer] was a clear harbinger of the band’s next move, “Call Me” written and produced with the disco master. The breakdown in the middle eight gave bassist Harrison a chance to steal the spotlight for a couple of bars. It was a dynamic rock disco hybrid, held back only by the [I’m guessing] deliberately banal and sketchy lyrics that were there only to have a Debbie presence on the instrumentally-driven song.
The album took a breather on the gentle ballad “Sound-A-Sleep” which certainly functioned as a lullaby on this normally energetic to a fault album. All the better t=for the ultimate in contrasts when the bombastic and furious “Victor” followed. The song was like nothing else in the Blondie canon. The Frank Infante written number was structured like a hysterical dialogue between Anastasia and her paramour, Victor, who had left her for practical reasons, delivered in a letter to her as the song’s third verse, pledging to return when the conditions [war? revolution?] permitted.
The track simply explodes out of the already kinetic framework of the album. This time Burke has some real competition for the spotlight with Infante’s curiously Fripp-like tightly coiled guitar riffs circling throughout the song. While the breakneck drums and guitars battle it out, the vocalists aren’t playing shrinking violet. Debbie Harry is bleeding into the red for her entire performance here! She must have been wrecked after committing this one to tape but even the stentorian Soviet Men’s Chorus vocals that Infante, Destri and producer Mike Chapman [The Jah Trio] provide here are a thing of wonder even in themselves.
Finally the album ended with another frantic burst of energy in “I’m Not Living In The Real World.” Ms. Harry once again dipped into her bag of tricks for some more unfettered energy on the screaming chorus to the thrashing punk number keyboardist Destri penned with Harry. The album had a much stronger rock vibe than any other albums in their classic canon, where pop usually won out over rock. Mike Chapman produced for the second time, but crucially, he had David Tickle as an engineer in the sessions. I quickly noticed the name since the album sounded so impossibly lush yet crisp; a sonic feast where usually one of those dishes is missing. Within a half a year, we would notice David Tickle again when he produced the “True Colours” album by Split Enz; another feast of glimmering pop sonics that managed to break that band in North America.
So, sure, this was a peak album by one of the most significant US New Wave bands, but it managed to be groundbreaking in one other fashion, beyond its energetic songs, fantastic singing and the incredible drumming of Clem Burke. “Eat To The Beat” was also the first full video album ever released to home video. I recall that Warner Home Video released four video tapes to the tiny [at the time] home market and these were Gary Numan’s “Touring Principle” live concert, Dire Straits “Making Movies,” a Fleetwood Mac live video and “Eat To The Beat.” This had to have been the first time that music videos had been made for every song on an album. I wanted it on βeta in the 80s, but by the decade’s end, I had gotten the Japanese laserdisc of the title as seen at left.
While the 1987 Laserdisc of the title is still in mono, like the original videotape, EMI has come to the rescue of fans with the 2007 reissue of the album, which sported the video album on DVD as a buyer’s premium. I can’t tell you if it’s in 1.0, 2.0, or 5.1 or not, though as I do not have a copy.
After this album dominated by late 1979 like few others, it seemed like there was no end in sight for the conquering heroes of New Wave. Little did I know that the band would never hit the heights that this album seemed to effortlessly achieve. Artistically, any way. None of the three singles released in America proved to be successful followups to “Heart Of Glass” or even “One Way Or Another.” The album joined the Platinum Club within nine months – entirely appropriate to a classic album that somehow managed to give the single charts a miss. Though Mike Chapman would produce their next two albums, it could have almost been another band entirely by that time. The group’s POV would get stretched to the breaking point on the insanely eclectic “Autoamerican” the next year, but the group would certainly not suffer commercially for it! If this album had: power pop, widescreen ballads, funk rock, disco, New Wave, reggae, girl group pastiche, and punk rock, then the next one would cast an even wider net.
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