Is there anyone who actually looks forward to new music from Blondie? For the legacy that the band has, arguably being the faces of new wave in the ’70s and ’80s and smashing the boundaries of their original punk guise to do so, the New York sextet have been through the same straits as many heritage acts, namely releasing albums every couple of years to keep the wheels spinning and to make sure their name remains in the public consciousness. Their last handful of albums did nothing of note, and for the undeniable pop culture icon that Debbie Harry is, the last thing of any relevance she did was provide backing vocals for Fall Out Boy in 2008.
So why bother covering their eleventh album Pollinator at all? Well it’s more to do with the logistics of the album, and whether the band themselves actually have any clue what they’re doing here. A look at the list of co-writers would suggest not, with collaborations ranging from Sia and Charli XCX to The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi to Johnny Marr. The tracklisting itself makes matters even more curious, with features from comedy group The Gregory Brothers and Bob’s Burgers voice actor John Roberts, as well as Fragments, a cover of a 2011 song written by YouTube film critic YourMovieSucksDOTorg. Clearly Pollinator is designed to be something more than just another Blondie album that falls away before long, either one that thrusts them headlong into the modern day thanks to contemporary and unorthodox collaborations, or simply to keep people talking for more than a short period of time.
If that’s the goal, it’ll no doubt be a product of the listed collaborators, as Pollinator achieves precious little on its own. In fact, even that might be too generous – it’s low risk, low reward that only somewhat saves itself by virtue of any expectations being crucially low from the start. Inert, syrupy synths constitute most underlying melodies, texture only really shows up by accident, and there’s a strain on Harry’s vocals that makes her sound as though it’s time to pack it in. And yet, the shimmer and sparkle of Long Time calls back to their new wave heyday in an effective, charming way, Fun‘s disco-pop strut lives up to its name in fine form, and Fragments builds up an almost gothic, vampiric swell with its organ and guitars that would have some genuine potency no matter who recorded it. There are moments of real gold on this album, and if Blondie weren’t so scattershot with their approach, they’d easily be able to cultivate it into something more cohesive.
That said, with the bevy of outside influences that Blondie have roped in, it’s no wonder that Pollinator is a complete mess; the differences in songwriting style and tone are so vast at points that there’s virtually no way to stick the landing. Where a track like the classy disco rollick and lighthearted hookup of Fun hits a stride that the band can actually pull off, placing it next to Johnny Marr’s stony-faced assertions of “Human beings are stupid things when we’re young” on the already flat My Monster, or John Roberts’ atrocious rapping on Love Level that would be better suited on a Smash Mouth track from 1999 just widens the disparity between what’s high quality and what isn’t. The natural sag that occurs near the album’s middle doesn’t help either, with Charli XCX’s writing on Gravity being utterly nondescript, and When I Gave Up On You serving absolutely no purpose beyond another disposable ballad.
But even after all that, any criticisms about Blondie’s modern output remain virtually pointless. After all, this is a band who’ve gained more than enough momentum to release whatever they like with no consequence, and in that respect, at least Pollinator does have areas that work for it. But this album only stands where it is from the benefit of limited expectation; a Blondie album in 2017 was never going to have the same lasting impact as their classic material, and the fact that Pollinator isn’t a complete shambles can be seen as a minor win. It’s still painfully average at best on its own though, resting on its associated names for a bit more exposure that ultimately ends up squandered. Even when it comes to what’s enjoyable here, they aren’t worth sticking around too long for.
For fans of: Eurythmics, The Bangles, The B-52’s
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Pollinator’ by Blondie is out now on BMG Rights Management.