Blondie: Pollinator

Blondie: Pollinator

Blondie delivering a new album in 2017 seems perfect.

Blondie: Pollinator

3.5 / 5

Blondie delivering a new album in 2017 seems perfect. No, the veteran New York group isn’t eating up the charts way it once did and, no, there’s nothing here that rivals “Heart of Glass.” That doesn’t stop Pollinator from being a better-than-average effort. There are outside hands galore across the writing credits: Johnny Marr, Sia, David Sitek (TV on the Radio) and Nick Valensi (The Strokes) are among those who contributed. That’s not just an impressive cast, it’s also a list that (mostly) owes a specific debt to Blondie’s classic sound. The Strokes and TV on the Radio took some of the elder band’s experimental spirit and amphetamine energy into their own hearts and, really, what female performer since 1980 hasn’t owed something to Debbie Harry?

Harry herself gives us a swift kick to the head with “Long Time,” a co-write with Dev Hynes (Lightspeed Champion/Blood Orange) that recaptures the spunk and spirit of “Heart of Glass” and “The Tide Is High” while maintaining its own identity. The greatest debt it owes to those blasts from the past may come in the form of Harry’s voice. During the tune’s four minutes and 35 seconds, she reminds us how an understated but emotionally smart vocal performance can carry a song, how far a little restraint goes and that a hit is as much about the heart as it is the hook.

There has always been plenty of heart to Blondie. Though one would never think of the outfit as a deep band, its music has always had an emotional substance to it that most pop could never summon. “Call Me” may have been the theme for a film about a gigolo but it captured a certain essence of sexual politics and sexual identity while letting listeners get lost in its deft beats and soaring choruses. This album’s “Fun” functions in a similar fashion, tackling the complications of desire, the sense that one losing themselves in someone else is both an inviting and frightening prospect. Others have sung about this very matter countless times but few have done so with the conviction and intelligence Harry summons here.

If there’s a theme that runs through the record, perhaps it’s the thrill and frustration of love’s great chase, the exciting swift turns that lead into dead ends and the slow moving times that result in something real and lasting. It doesn’t have to be as sophisticated as that, as evidenced by the swagger and sway of the R-rated “Love Level,” which features a guest turn from John Roberts (he may or may not be the oh-so-lucky “tall John” referenced in the lyrics).

Those risks are matched in the musical settings as well. Blondie has never been notable for its ballads and yet there’s a soft, Phil Spector-esque tearjerker, “When I Gave Up on You,” which shows us some of the vulnerability masked by the rapid tempos and dance-oriented trappings of other material. It’s not quite the gut wrenching poetry of the Johnny Thunders classic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” but it comes close. It’s only a moment, though, before Harry and company launch back into being the solid rock band it’s always been, chasing the good life with a ferocious appetite and holding on tenaciously to the good times.

So often collaborations such as this between veteran acts and younger writers and/or producers don’t fly. Such records either devolve into obvious cash-ins or experiments that, although well-intentioned, lack any sort of chemistry. That’s not the case here as, for the most part, Pollinator reveals that Blondie has made the right choice. More central than who the band has collaborated with is the fact that Blondie’s identity remains intact and as formidable as ever.

Leave a Comment