When you’re as big as Blondie, releasing new music is a dizzyingly high-stakes affair. The comparisons to older work are inevitable, are as the accusations of selling-out, with people being unhappy whether you reinvent too drastically or stick too closely to the established formula. In such a high-pressure situation, it would be far easier just to phone it in and coast, but Blondie have never been that kind of band.
Pollinator, out May 5th, proves that even after 40 years in the business, they still have more to give. A twisting tale of sex, love and regret in New York City, the tone varies from dreamy and romantic to almost bittersweet, but the New Wave sensibility that has made them so irresistible is present on every single track. Collaborations with Sia and Charlie XCX contextualise the trio for a whole new generation, but their contributions never feel token, instead sitting perfectly next to Joan Jett’s grit-and glamour vocals on Doom Or Destiny or Johnny Marr’s ever present influence.
Of course, the album isn’t completely devoid of filler, but filler by Blondie’s standards is still pretty damn good. While ‘Already Naked’ and ‘Best Day Ever’ are maybe the least memorable of the bunch, they act as the perfect pause for breath, lying between the biggest heavy hitters on the album. Marr’s presence is all over ‘My Monster’, from the jangly guitars to what are easily the most melancholy lyrics of the lot, but the decidedly British touch proves the perfect counterpoint to Debbie’s decidedly American sensibility.
By contrast, ‘Gravity’ is a shimmering explosion of bubblegum pop, walking the line between sugary girlishness and sultry vocals perfectly. ‘Fragments’ is a sweeping epic that cycles through emotions like seasons, while ‘Fun’ is just pure 80’s power-punk with what has to be one of the grooviest basslines of the year. Even when Debbie’s vocals are heavily treated, and they quite often are, she remains as charismatic as ever, and that strength carries the album through some of its more derivative moments.
In short, Pollinator is as varied and chic as the New York skyline, and a worthy tribute to the Magic Shop, given that it’s the last album to ever be recorded at the legendary studio. The whole album is steeped in the city of its origin, and has proved that even over four decades later, New York is still the place to be.
Pollinator will be released on 5th May.
(Image: Ian Cheek Press)