While some critics turned up their noses at 2004’s The Curse of Blondie, I found it to be an effective disco-rock romp that pulsed with more energy and inventiveness than records by bands one-third Blondie’s age. Sadly, the whole of Necessary Evil, Deborah Harry’s first solo album in 14 years, is akin to Curse‘s one bona fide misstep, “Shakedown,” a horribly misguided attempt at rap-rock that, unlike “Rapture,” didn’t have the benefit of being released by a band hot off of a different kind of hybrid (the disco-punk of “Heart of Glass”) and during an era when Fab 5 Freddy was still a prime figure in hip-hop. Among the new album’s evils: the stripper-punk “You’re Too Hot” and its tech-pop counterpart “Dirty and Deep,” which was originally serviced to club DJs in 2006 as a tribute to the then-incarcerated Lil’ Kim. Harry has always fared best when backed by Blondie guitarist Chris Stein (who co-wrote and produced two lackluster tracks here) and keyboardist Jimmy Destri; left to her own devices, she can get quirky and weird to a fault.
Necessary Evil is an apt title for the album, however, because amid the embarrassing clunkers, of which there are many, the experimentation occasionally pays off: “Paradise” is a sax-filled torch song written from the perspective of a female suicide bomber, while “Love With a Vengeance” is seemingly assembled from a synth line borrowed from Afrika Bambaataa—it’s like a freestyle melody at half speed—and beats loaned out from Swizz Beatz. And when Harry and her main production team, Super Buddha, focus on strong melodies, as they do on gems like the power ballad “If I Had You,” “What is Love” (the Buddhist chants of which add a spiritual weight to the titular eternal question), and “Two Times Blue” (which is the epitome of geek-pop, even making algebra sound sexy), it becomes increasingly evident that, aside from the clubs, the iconic singer’s future success might rely on adult contemporary audiences. You know, the folks who used to buy Blondie records.
The pastiche of styles on Necessary Evil is quintessential Debbie Harry, but diamonds in the rough aside, it also makes for a wildly uneven, often jarring collection of songs. The interludes (including the tribal “Heart of the Moment,” which is comprised of sounds from a Brazilian street festival) don’t exactly provide the connective tissue required to create seamless transitions between the measured balladry of “Needless To Say” and the Hendrix vibe of the title track. Luckily, we live in an age where we can disassemble records, cut the fat, create our own playlists, and render Necessary Evil not completely unnecessary.