Pollinator

Blondie

BMG, 2017

http://www.blondie.net

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/27/2020

As with their previous release 2014’s Ghosts Of Download, Blondie’s eleventh and still most recent studio album Pollinator was in the making for the best part of two years. The process, however, was very different this time around as Chris Stein and Deborah Harry decided to pull in as much material written by others as they could find. The reasons given at the time were simply the current musical soundscape had excited them enough to want a piece of the action for themselves. The pair spent time between their tours working with producer John Congleton to approach selected artists, then trawling through all of the ideas and sample tracks that were being sent in to sort the good from the bad.

The three were in constant email contact and slowly began shaping what would become Pollinator piece by piece. That’s not to say that there isn’t any Blondie originals on the record, though. Harry and Stein included two of their own, Harry co-wrote another, and bandmate (since 2008 on keyboards) Matt Katz-Bohen wrote a couple with his writing partner and wife Laura. The musical direction this time around was also in contrast to the overtly electronic Ghosts Of Download, which produced some interesting results. This time around, Blondie decided it was time to start sounding like a band again.

Clem Burke’s drums are back as a focal point rather than the almost after-thought they sounded like at times on Ghosts. Guitarists Stein and Tommy Kessler (since 2010) turned out some pretty cool licks across the album – very pop-focused but cool nonetheless. Along with Burke, long time bassist Leigh Foxx can be heard here grinding out some of his finest basslines in years. Also reinvigorated by this new process, Deborah Harry sounds far more engaged and expressive than she has in years. Her vocals across record are effervescent. It’s a welcome change, too, as despite the methods employed to put Pollinator together, the band managed to produce a vibrant “Blondie sounding” album that also happens to be their finest release since 1999’s No Exit.

Of the two Harry/Stein originals, opener “Doom Or Destiny,” featuring Joan Jett on backing vocals and in the awesome video, is the gritter of the two. It’s classic Blondie, and Burke’s thumping intro is a direct throwback to so many of their classics. Harry is back to true form from the get-go: “I was stuck in a tar pit, having a shit fit.” “Love Level,” with voice actor John Roberts on back-up this time, is an experimental gem; there’s a lot going on with this one, but it stays tight as Harry returns to one of her favourite topics – sex, proving that although passing seventy with barely a glance, she hasn’t lost her edge.

The Katz-Bohen tracks are equally potent: “Too Much” is vintage Blondie (circa Autoamerican) and the glorious “Already Naked” is one of the strongest latter-day Blondie tracks out there. Harry wrote “Long Time” with Dev Hynes, which was released as the second single (the first being the care-free poppy “Fun”) and generated the most buzz among the loyal Blondie faithful here down under. Again it is one of the strongest songs the band has produced in years and the similarities to “Heart Of Glass” were noticed with absolute approval.

Johnny Marr’s “My Monster” and Sia’s (co-written with Dimitri Tikovoï) “Best Day Ever” aren’t quite as strong as the best stuff on the record, but they keep the vibe and the overall sense of levity comes through. Charli XCX’s “Gravity” picks up from where “Doom Or Destiny” left off, albeit in a sweeter tone. The Gregory Brothers offering “When I Gave Up On You” is a little folksy country-tinged throwback to similar Blondie originals of the past (“The Dream’s Lost On Me” and “Happy Dog” both from No Exit come to mind). It’s the most unique moment on the album and is a welcome momentary change of pace.

The album closes with the epic whirlwind of “Fragments,” penned by Adam Johnston, which would’ve been a fine way to cap off what is an astonishing return to form. Still, as with most things Blondie do, there had to be a twist. This time, there’s a hidden track that follows: another Charli XCX original simply called “Tonight,” which just takes the edge off as it is the only track here that almost sounds like it wasn’t really finished. To just tack it on like this seems like an afterthought.

It’s no big deal, though, because Pollinator remains a killer Blondie album that makes up for the somewhat patchy pair that preceded it (Panic Of Girls and Ghosts Of Download). It was also thankfully their most successful release in two decades and deservedly so. The fact that the band could cook up something as powerful as Pollinator this late in the game gives hope that there could be more to come. If not, it would be a fitting end to an amazingly eclectic body of work by one of the most wonderfully original bands to ever hit the big time.

Rating: A-

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