Let’s make one thing clear right now: no Blondie song will ever be better than ‘Heart Of Glass,’ ‘Atomic,’ or ‘Call Me.’ These are the pinnacle of their sound and that, my friends, is why they are singles. What do they all have in common? They were released in the band’s peak of 1979 and 1980, when Debbie Harry was in her prime and Blondie was a new and exciting outfit at the front of the new wave scene. These comparisons make it clear what the band is trying to achieve with Pollinator, an album of occasional experimentation that sticks to what they know to work from that heyday – it’s a combination that, although a bit messy, could be a lot worse.
This far into a career you can forgive a band for wanting to try a new sound, but the intended effect of introducing guest writers and vocalists sends the record a little awry. The blend of ’80s disco synths with guests from Sia to Nick Valensi to Charli XCX does actually make for an acceptable result, but I just need more from this album in order to accept that it’s really Blondie. Much like how die-hard Star Wars fans refuse acknowledge the prequel trilogy, I’m not convinced that Pollinator is actually executed by the Debbie Harry we know and love. There’s just far too much occurring, as if they’re neither fully sticking to their roots nor fully going for something new, which is a shame for a band of such a pioneering reputation from their founding four decades ago.
That said, we do have some delightful moments. ‘Fun,’ written by a ridiculous number of people from Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio to Erik Hassle, is all about having too much of a good thing and very disco-y; Charli XCX’s ‘Gravity’ has a classic Blondie sound with lovely keys despite an atrocious amount of layering on Harry’s voice; ‘Best Day Ever,’ penned by Sia and Valensi, is a typically synth-laden number about the temptations of toxic relationships. At times Harry sounds incredibly overproduced but there are some spots (‘I Gave Up On You’) that do her voice appropriate justice. By far the best song on the album is ‘Love Level.’ Written by Harry and Chris Stein, the former Blondie couple and the founders of the band itself, with blaring horns and drums it’s a gorgeous display of their old sound meeting successful experimentation, especially with repeating refrains at the end through a lovely horn ditty that drops out to leave Stein alone.
Pollinator proves Blondie is still a band with what it takes to produce some good quality music, but the push to try and reinvent themselves while trying to recreate their classic sound is all a tad forced. A casual fan could easily find a lot to love and a couple of cuts could easily be comfortably incorporated into their live shows, but it’s not likely to stick too closely to what they’re known for.
Pollinator is out now via BMG</>