Blondie, ‘Pollinator': Album Review
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As “Doom or Destiny” kicks in, it’s clear that Blondie have regained some mojo along the way. The lead-off track on the band’s new album, Pollinator, pulses with the vibe of vintage Blondie. Drums crash, guitars bash and synths pulse while the band gets a little help from Joan Jett. Though for much of the material on the album employs outside writers, this rocker was written by founders Chris Stein and Debbie Harry. It is a solid kickoff to an album that attempts to marry the various styles the band has tackled over their 40-plus career.
“One thing I object to: When people stop going to clubs at a certain age and say there’s no good music now,” Harry recently told Harper’s Bazaar. “This always shocks me. There is so much good music. … In music the only thing that changes is the technology, but the artistic incorporation of that technology is a gradual building process.”
Harry and company have tried to bridge the gap between old and new on Pollinator, and most of it succeeds. Its first single, “Long Time” is bursting with pop urgency of the highest order. Written by Harry with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, it also recalls the past glories of the band while focusing on the here and now. Ditto for the next track, “Already Naked,” a song co-written by the man behind the keyboards for Blondie for the past decade or so, Matt Katz-Bohen. Once again, the spirit of the past comes face to face with the here and now. Age be damned, Debbie Harry is 71 years old, and sounds like she is having the time of her life.
On other tracks, the band receives songwriting help from Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio (“Fun”), and writers associated with the likes of Rhianna and Shakira. While some work better than others, the focus on Harry’s vocals regardless of style, remains front and center. Ex-Smiths guitar maestro Johnny Marr contributed one of the album’s finest moments, the driving “My Monster,” while Strokes‘ guitarist Nick Valensi and Sia check in with the upbeat “Best Day Ever,” which draws upon the ’60s influences of prime-era Blondie, even as it is washed in new wave sheen.
There are, however, a couple tracks where production techniques get a little obtrusive and too modernized, especially “When I Gave Up on You,” where Harry’s vocals are tweaked by producer John Congleton. The otherwise fine mid-tempo pop song simply gets lost under these gimmicks, ultimately cheapening the song, which is a shame since Harry is in top form throughout the album. “Love Level” tries too hard to go nowhere, as the vocals of actor, writer and comedian John Roberts take away, rather than add anything.
Thankfully, the album picks back up to end on a high note with “Fragments.” One of the album’s best tracks, it starts out slow and moody before drum king Clem Burke kicks things into high gear with Harry along for the rocking ride, as she delivers one of her best vocals on the album. This song, by itself, is a good snapshot of what Pollinator is all about, straddling that line between nodding to their past and keeping all eyes on the road ahead. The band sound re-energized and like they are truly having fun, something which was absent from the past few releases. Truly, it’s their finest effort in several years.
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