Over the past few years we have seen a couple of definitive pop songs; Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Pharrell Williams’ Happy. They might not exactly move you, but most people recognise how this duo of songs simply hit the moment and shout out 4 minutes of pretty perfect pop. Back in 1979 it was the turn of Blondie to strike similar gold (and pay dirt) with their classic track Heart of Glass. This was the song to really turn dance music cool and it became the mainstream genre to follow for the next few years. Debbie Harry even soon went on to produce one of the first really big hits to contain a rap section (Rapture).
While Blondie soon went off the boil and produced a few real duff tracks (rarely was a song title as prophetic as 1982’s Island of Lost Souls), it’s all credit to the band that almost 40 years after their heyday they are attempting to add to their considerable legacy. I’m sure it would be easier for Blondie to wander onto a “Sound of the 1980’s” tour every few years to keep the pension funds topped up, but thankfully the band are just too cool and care far too much to do that.
On listening to their latest eleventh album Pollinator, I can’t help but wish I didn’t know it was Blondie behind the music; my knowledge means I can’t avoid listening out for how Debbie Harry’s voice might have changed over the years and to overanalyse how current the band now sound.
The story behind the Pollinator album is that Blondie realised they might not have enough internal creative spark to produce a whole album, and apart from a couple of band written tracks they asked various friends within the music industry to prepare a song with them in mind. I guess the title Pollinator covers the creative process. While mixing it up in this way is undoubtedly a great idea to reduce risk of stagnation and to get a contemporary feel to the music in the process, it also means that the mighty Blondie legacy perhaps stifles. If I were to produce a song for Blondie I’d remember Debbie Harry’s cutesy lipstick, shades and blond American look and largely re-imagine a modern version of what has gone before.
The “Heart of Glass” revisited track on Pollinator is Long Time, written with Blood Orange. Harry’s voice is fine and certainly tuneful albeit a little thinner than in her heyday. It’s a very creditable and catchy bit of bouncy disco, although I can’t help but imagine what the late 1970’s pure honey covered Harry voice might have done. Rather horrifically there’s also a “Tide is High” revisited track with Love Level. This is one of those devil tunes you really should hate; it’s a disco track about sexual attraction with a really rather corny rap bit by John Roberts (from US TV Bob’s Burgers) and a bit of cod reggae. Don’t stand anywhere near me on the train for the next week, dear reader, I’ll be simultaneously humming it and beating myself up for remembering it at the same time.
Pollinator tends to bounce along in a very happy if non committal way. While it’s a fine addition to the Blondie back catalogue it does feel just a tad safe and perhaps something of a lost opportunity. One of my personal standout albums of 2016 was Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker. Cohen waxes lyrical about aging, loss of libido and his impending death. How classy and what strong an impact would a new wave/disco album from Blondie about aging, decline and the observations of the new elderly would have. Although Debbie Harry is now tidily into her 70’s, the songs on Pollinator can be about sharing glasses of cherry cola and unless I’ve misunderstood the context, what appears to be undertaking revision (“It’s my University of the Third Age History of Art course exam, innit”).
The song on the Pollinator album that I particularly wanted to hear was the track written by legendary Manchester lad Johnny Marr, My Monster. In the end it’s a strong bit of pop and Debbie Harry certainly suits the slightly slower and dark register in her voice. For me however there’s a tad too much jangling electronic organ going on and a tiny bit of thrashing guitar to be able to completely shake off a feel of the late 1970’s or even Eurovision, but for long running Blondie fans it sits nicely into the roster. Too Much is another strong classic Blondie track which will please those into the band back in the 70’s, with a very catchy hook line and a vocal line which cleverly just veers on the world weary. When I Gave Up on You has a slightly country feel, and is a rather classy if traditional sounding track about a break up. There are a couple of very ordinary tracks on Pollinator although nothing to really put you off the band.
Given I’m producing a piece for a current music website I must ask a question about whether Blondie are vital for 2017, and I have to conclude on the showing of Pollinator the answer has to be a clear no, but for all that this is a very credible album. Blondie’s Pollinator is the kind of CD you can happily buy your dad for Father’s Day to bring a smile on his face with memories from when he was 15, without simultaneously worrying that you will then have to sit through and hate listening to it all afternoon. Overall, Pollinator is a solid 6/10 release and punchy enough to have me wonder what Blondie, a band with near 45 years of vintage, might come up with next.