Three years after commemorating their 40th anniversary, the iconic American band Blondie have released their 11th studio album, Pollinator. While listeners can commend the band’s ability to innovate and modernise after a hugely successful career, if the album doesn’t sound much like Blondie, that’s because largely it isn’t.
Fondly recalling their famed Parallel Lines album, tracks like Doom or Destiny (where Debbie Harry is accompanied by the rough vocals of rock legend Joan Jett) and Long Time begin Pollinator. As she did nearly 40 years ago, Debbie Harry is still able to switch between the low, dominant vocals of One Way or Another and the airier vocals of dreamy classic Heart of Glass to instantly immerse any listener. A drawl of French is all it takes to remind us of Blondie’s cheery cover Denis. Too Much, one of only four songs on the album written by members of Blondie, it is an enthusiastically wistful song of life after heartbreak with an aching pre-chorus. Pulled in by catchy, simple lyrics, and a mournful hook, Blondie are recognisably themselves.
However, after 11 studio albums together, perhaps Blondie have run out of ideas. Pollinator is dominated by a cast of intruders from within the music industry, and this is where Blondie seem to lose their sense of self. Gravity an angsty electronic love song written by Charlie XCX and DJ Dimitri Tikovoï, seems better suited to the seductive, sugar-coated aesthetics of the likes of Lana Del Rey and Marina and the Diamonds rather than the still radiating assertiveness of Harry. The youthful naivety of the song, captured in the chorus, “What makes the world go round? / Is it love?” is unconvincing.
“The themes of love, sex, and heartbreak that dominate the album appear to encapsulate the ageing artists of Blondie within adolescent life.”
Best Day Ever also leaves much to be desired. The repetitive lyrics, cowritten by Sia and Nick Valensi, make for a tepid track. The song only culminates in a discordant chorus where Harry’s higher notes clash incongruently with the teetering thrum of the backing chords. Unfortunately, some songs on the album only seem to emphasise the deterioration of Harry’s vocal ability: When I Gave Up On You, a sentimental ballad, also pushes the limits of Harry’s voice. The strain on her voice is evident despite the use of some distortion, leaving listeners wanting for the once strident voice that dominated Blondie.
The themes of love, sex, and heartbreak that dominate the album appear to encapsulate the ageing artists of Blondie within adolescent life. The music video for Fun, the album’s lead single, follows a thread of phallic imagery and ends exploring the lock-lipped, sexually vibrant scene of a club. While Pollinator is refreshingly bold in its provision of a platform for Harry, now in her 70s, discussing lust and love questions how far Harry would feel able to abandon her sexuality within her career.
As a glitter eyed sex symbol of the 70s, Harry has been known to lament the emphasis placed on her appearance throughout her career; she has also been known to accept the apparent inevitability of plastic surgery in an industry such as the music business. Perhaps it is hard to put to rest the adored Harry that many Blondie fans will forever associate with the band. The double-edged sword that hangs at the heads of older female celebrities, requiring women to appear sexless in their own desires whilst remaining beautiful for the world’s stage, has hopefully not deeply hurt the likes of Harry.
Pollinator isn’t a disappointing addition to Blondie’s discography. Although a few songs seem out of place performed by the band, Pollinator provides an array of fun pop songs held together by lingering hooks and catchy choruses. It’s regrettable that in the making of the album Blondie have forgotten that their best asset is themselves, but Pollinator proves that Blondie still have it in them.
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