There are two refuges for the established band looking to make a quick buck. The Greatest Hits or Singles collection and a live album. Even better, why not ask your long-worshipping fans to pick the tracks on it, therefore guaranteeing that at least they will buy it, even if they probably would have anyway, to put next to their place mats and commemorative mug. Blondie are no slouches, By Request has all their best stuff for anyone who decides they would rather have this than just go out and buy Parallel Lines, as well as a few extra bits, bobs and bonus tracks to keep the hardcore happy.
It’s fair to say that Blondie were always about sex. The guys in the band would argue otherwise, but a hoard of bewitched and loyal male fans would soon correct them, the iconic images of Debbie Harry, smouldering through sets full of breathy seductive vocals and cavorting around knowing full well that thousands of eyes were all on her. Harry may be 59 at the time of this recording, and is unlikely to be on many teenagers wall (well, it is a difficult time), but she still has the voice of a harlot, enticing and if anything, even more husky in as she cruises through middle age. During a raucous version of One Way on Another, spiked to the hilt and speeded up to double time, when Harry urges: “I’m gonna find ya / I’ll get ya, I’ll get ya”, you can only sit back and wonder why someone who is old enough to have spawned you can sound so, frankly, hot.
But that isn’t so much the point of By Request. This is an album picked by the fans, for the fans. Fans which probably care just as much about the absence of Jimmy Destri, or the fact that this isn’t the original line up, than they do about whether or not people still lust after the lead singer. It’s a polished live performance; Harry still has the punk/pop edge in her voice, teeming with the same attitude that drove Blondie’s best work, whilst guitarist Chris Stein relishes the chance to play more than the occasional constrained solo.
Listening to By Request, it is impossible to miss the effect that Blondie had on some on today’s artists. Rapture is the base version of the post-punk-pop template: jagged guitars, military beat and rebel swagger, while Call Me is as urgent and caustic with rock energy as anything today’s (mainly male) scruff-rock bands are churning out. Unfortunately, Tide is High still sounds like a dodgy accompaniment to a Malibu ad, and the bonus tracks: a country-tinged acoustic version of The Dream’s Lost On Me and a forgettable Presence Dear don’t add anything a show which peaks when the band put everything into their powered-up punk-pop favourites.
Essentially, By Request showcases a band who, despite nearly thirty years manage, although slightly laboured, to sound fresh and accomplished when on form, and just about get away with when they’re not. You can accuse them of cashing in, and they probably are, and you could just go out and buy one of the ‘classic albums’, but you’d miss out on the live energy of a band, who, in their day, were as cool as your indie idols are now.