Sunday, 28 May 2017

[Album Review] Blondie - Pollinator

Classic American rock band Blonde, fronted by Debbie Harry, return with their eleventh studio album and their fifth since their reunion almost twenty years ago. Seeing the band collaborate with more writers than on their usual records including Johnny Marr and Sia, this feels like their freshest album in a while with more big hitters on one LP than some of their more recent ones. With a consistent electronic theme tied up with their usual sound, it's another slight tweak on the Blondie formula for this album.

The album opens with 'Doom or Destiny' which introduces itself with a crash of drums that echoes back to their final release of the 20th century (No Exit) before following with a catchy chorus and a fun soft-rock rhythm. It even features Joan Jett on backing vocals. Second track and second single, is one of the best on the record with a great electronic feel and a memorable bridge and chorus, and certainly feels like classic Blondie.

'Already Naked' doesn't quite hit the heights of the opening two tracks but has a strong enough chorus to keep you interested. Track four and lead single 'Fun', however, feels like the Blondie song that stands out in the vein of 'Maria', 'Good Boys' or 'Mother' from previous recent LPs. Boasting a poppy radio-friendly chorus, this is a highlight of the album and instantly memorable.

The strong opening to the record continues with a personal favourite, the driving-forward 'My Monster' whose quirky yet catchy 'heart of darkness'-themed chorus labels this as potential single number 3 for me, and its a credit to writer Johnny Marr who once more shows off his musicman-ship even for other people.

The album takes a little turn into averageness through songs like 'Best Day Ever', which is perfectly good but feels like something Sia must have had lying around in a drawer somewhere with electronic elements that sound like a cross between something from the 80s and the TARDIS failing to lift off, and the distorted production of 'Gravity' which is distracting more than appealing and again doesn't echo the usual great material of Charlotte "Charli XCX" Aitchison but some of that can be aimed squarely at the awkward production decisions which masks what could be quite a fun chorus in audio mud.

It's a similar story for 'When I Gave Up On You' which is both the album's slowest number and also the biggest contender for the more average filler. Thankfully things improve with the John Roberts-featuring, brass-triggering track nine 'Love Level', with its cool lyrical hooks and mix of vocals that freshens things up a bit at a key point, though it could do with a bit more structure. That said, the building layers of the ending bring in some valuable energy and pizzazz.

Approaching the end of the album we get 'Too Much' which is potentially the contender for my favourite song on the album outside of the singles we've heard so far. With crisp production, a fun build up to the chorus, and a chorus that has a fast-paced singable vibe, this perks things up considerably and feels like one of the tracks that will stay with you after the record.

As things conclude we get the slower 'Fragments' which drops the tempo quite considerably and has lyrics that feels like they are saying something, though it's all wrapped in a rather somber and plodding start, but with a simple chorus that feels better. But when the track finally gets going the energy of a much faster delivery makes it more worthy of the album's conclusion and has some hints towards the operatic style of Meat Loaf, but seven minutes feels a little bloated and the f-bomb Harry drops in has no conviction. Fans of hidden tracks will wait for 'Tonight' featuring Laurie Anderson though, to be honest, it's not really worth the wait and is pretty ponderous and feels unnecessary.

Blondie's 'Pollinator' has as many high-points as their come-back albums and there are a good four or five strong songs and plenty more that are enjoyable, though weirdly contributions from usually reliable acts like Sia and Charli XCX are not among the best, with Johnny Marr and Blondie themselves offering more interesting tracks. If you've enjoyed Blondie's last four albums you'll enjoy this one. (6.5/10)

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