Will Craigie reviews Blondie’s latest album, Pollinator.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It brings us back to special moments of our lives that we ache to return to, or times that we appreciate cannot be revisited but still to reflect on – how they shaped us and made us the people we are today. I guess modern culture, more than ever, is constantly recycling the past (and I mean that in the best sense, well, sometimes). Endless remakes, rehashes and comebacks it can’t help but feel we are digressing. Do we really need another Backstreet Boys tour? And since when did Steps and Rick Astley become well respected artists (okay, that is slightly unfair – Never Gonna Give You Up will forever remain an immortal, impossible-not-to-dance-to anthem, and Steps knew their way around a great pop song).
The point is, these artists know what they are doing and it clearly works to great success. If disco comes back, so do all the old disco artists out of the woodwork. Same with garage. Now I am in no way knocking this – if the tunes still stand up and they are making modern forward thinking stuff which also does not sell out their old sound, then fair play. But sometimes biding to appeal to people on the basis of nostalgia feels too calculated. Blondie are a band that could be said to have once been guilty of this. After a string of brilliant albums with some of the best indie singles of all time (what a run of songs – Call Me, Atomic, The Tide is High, Rapture) and one awful, forgettable album (1982’s The Hunter belongs in the dustbin of the music world), Blondie disbursed for 18 years. They came back with No Exit which was undeniably a weak album but contained the delightful Maria which sent the band straight back to Number 1 (in the same year as that Britney, The Vengaboys, Westlife released major albums – let that sink in). Hey, it wasn’t the best album by it was a successful comeback fuelled by a great song – it should have been left there. But for whatever reason, Blondie dredged on for another three albums, each more boring and irrelevant as the last. It’s was almost as though Debbie Harry forget she was one the coolest women on earth in one of the best bands that ever existed?
Well, this is the case no more. Listening to Pollinator is like listening to a revitalised band. The music is once more lively and, above all, fun. The evidence speaks for itself – the lead single is literally called Fun and with its Studio 54 disco beat and joyous lyrics it is very much that. It could be argued that Blondie is just tapping into the disco/80s synth pop revival which is currently being used by artists such as Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepson, Chvrches and Blood Orange but it is apparent that the opposite is the case – you realise how influential Blondie has been in modern music. They were able to fuse so many different genres with razor wit and new wave bite. And Blondie do push their old sound further in Pollinator, with the use of many collaborators: Dev Hynes (whose assisted Long Time is one the best pop songs of recent years – try and find a better bridge than Harry’s sweet delivery of “Take me/and use me/and tell them I’m yours”), Johnny Marr on the 80s indie sounding My Monster, Sia pens Best Song Ever (surprisingly not a generic inspirational anthem Sia normally writes), Joan Jett on the hard edged, epic opener Doom Or Destiny and some unknown American dude on Love Level.