Usually when musicians release a new album, the goal is to do one or two things: 1) satisfy old fans; and/or 2) gain new ones.
In this case, the old fans are those who’ve been following the band Blondie for four decades. You know, the ones that sent four of their first ten singles in America to Number One on the pop chart between 1979 and 1981 and who thought Debbie Harry was the be all to end all (and she was!).
The potential new fans would be those who hear their new album, Pollinator, released Friday, May 5, and try to fit it into their 2017 definition of what’s currently hip and relevant.
Upon listening to it, I have two reactions. There probably won’t be any new fans joining the Blondie party – despite the presence of a long list of contemporary artists whose goal it was to update the legendary group’s sound to one that fits nicely into the current millennium.
On the other hand, old fans – like myself – will be satisfied, especially after repeated listens.
Pollinator boasts 11 songs that center around Debbie Harry’s deadpan – but still very effective – vocals. They mostly harken back to the band’s punk, new wave, disco, and alternative rock days with a sound that clearly would be more at home in 1977 than in 2017.
With that in mind, one has to commend founders Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, original drummer Clem Burke and the other members of Blondie for staying true to their old sound. While Pollinator – or anything released by a group containing a septuagenarian rocker as its lead singer (unless maybe you’re the Rolling Stones) – won’t be doing gangbusters in sales or streaming numbers, it does manage to place Blondie back in the spotlight, even if only briefly.
Good things are already happening as a result. The album’s lead single, “Fun,” topped the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart (formerly known as the magazine’s Disco chart) this week. And, as advertised, the song is fun to listen to. Harry and Co. pull out all the stops with a thumping disco beat, rhythmic guitar and enough cymbals to do 1979’s “Heart of Glass” producer Mike Chapman proud.
In the video for “Fun,” a still very good-looking Debbie Harry and company ham it up with space-age visual effects and the likes of Raja (of “Rupaul’s Drag Race” fame).
Indeed several of the songs on Pollinator, which includes collaborations with Sia, Charlie XCX, Johnny Marr (from the Smiths), noted young songwriter/producer Devonté “Dev” Hynes and fellow aging rocker Joan Jett, among several others, bear a resemblance to the sound Blondie honed in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The album’s second track (and second single), “Long Time,” with its driving uptempo disco beat, was co-written by Hynes and Harry and is similarly in the disco-rock vein of Blondie’s earlier work. In it, Debbie Harry isn’t hitting those soprano-like high notes she did in “Heart of Glass,” but the song is heavy on melody and would be equally capable of topping a dance chart this year, as would the uptempo “Too Much,” where Harry’s vocals, particularly on the chorus, harken back to the low register she employed in 1979’s “One Way Or Another.”
Granted, topping the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart in 2017 doesn’t mean as much as having a Number One on its predecessor Disco Top 100 chart did in 1979. Today’s chart amounts to a sampling of a handful of playlists by DJs across the country, and the Number One song changes every week (only Ed Sheeran’s multi-format chart-topper “Shape Of You” has spent more than a week at the top of the Dance Club list this year (it spent two).
Plus, having a Number One disco song doesn’t easily translate to pop success today…just ask Leann Rimes (yes, former country queen Leann Rimes), Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono), and the dozen-plus other artists who’ve topped the Dance Club chart this year. You likely wouldn’t have known about those feats had I not mentioned them here – whether you boogied along to them at a dance club during the songs’ brief reigns or not.
Similarly, “Fun” will probably suffer a short-lived chart fate…likely gone from those same playlists before June gets here. Still Pollinator is worth giving a listen or two, particularly the auto-tuned new-wave track “Gravity,” and the explicit, funky horn-driven “Love Level” (possibly the album’s best track – written by founders Harry and Stein). On the latter, Harry does her trademark talk-singing (not rapping à la 1981’s “Rapture”) about being in a sex act with a lover who is clearly taller than she and with whom she wants to “level” (by wearing high heels and the like…at least that was my take).
It’s a little weird to picture a 71-year-old Debbie Harry – who lays claim to the first song featuring rapping to top the Hot 100 (“Rapture”) – in the role being depicted in “Love Level,” particularly with its seemingly out-of-nowhere “Everybody fucks Tall John” refrain, yet it’s also hard to deny the swagger that she boasts throughout the new album.
It’s clear Harry’s still got it. In fact, the group Blondie does…at least for the old fans, like myself.
They’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for nothing.
Give Pollinator a listen…or two.
And for you old-school Blondie fans, I’ve taken the time to rank their 10 Greatest Songs, presented in countdown fashion from No. 10 to No. 1, which you can enjoy below!
"The Hardest Part" was the second single from Blondie's 1979 "Eat to the Beat" album. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 2, 1980. Just two weeks later, Blondie's "Call Me" debuted on that same chart - while "The Hardest Part" was stalled at No. 84. And that was pretty much it for this tune.