Debbie Harry, we “love you just the same”

Music

 

 

The fact that Blondie’s tenth album, Ghosts of Download, will be released along with a re-released and recorded compilation of their greatest hits in all their spine-chilling glory, entitled Deluxe Redux, would seem promising to loyal fans greeting the new album with trepidation. After all, their last offering, 2011’s Panic of Girls, left a sour taste in the mouths of some for its departure from the band’s trademark fearless eclecticism. Veering like an indecisive toddler back and forth between overly noisy synth-punk and poorly executed reggaeton, it represented an abandonment of the variety for which this iconic band are known and loved.

However, the trepidation in this case is well justified. In 2013, somewhat worryingly, guitarist, producer and general mastermind Chris Stein told us that the new release would be “more computer-based than band-based.” Even the album’s title suggests a desire to move forward from their analogue heyday. Therefore, should we expect an album led totally astray by desire to keep up with the times, to the extent of losing its way completely?he fact that Blondie’s tenth album, Ghosts of Download, will be released along with a re-released and recorded compilation of their greatest hits in all their spine-chilling glory, entitled Deluxe Redux, would seem promising to loyal fans greeting the new album with trepidation. After all, their last offering, 2011’s Panic of Girls, left a sour taste in the mouths of some for its departure from the band’s trademark fearless eclecticism. Veering like an indecisive toddler back and forth between overly noisy synth-punk and poorly executed reggaeton, it represented an abandonment of the variety for which this iconic band are known and loved.

The answer, simply and mercifully, is mostly a resounding no. Opener ‘Sugar on the Side’ teases us in the first few seconds with an electronic percussion loop purposefully reminiscent of super-hit ‘Heart of Glass’, before launching into a cavernously low bass line and a lurching Latin drum beat. Blondie have widened their horizons yet again to bring us a richly flavoured, yet authentic-feeling production: the vocals from Colombian electronic rabble-rousers Systema Solar are a nice touch. The synths and drums are glossily produced while losing none of their punch.

What’s more, anyone who had misgivings about whether the now 68-year-old Debbie Harry can still “cut it” can rest easy: her voice soars over the production, the same fragile timbre of her ’70s heyday flawlessly maintained (and if you cynics chalk this down to over-production, look at the re-recorded hits on the other disc). Rather than suffering from the enhanced production, the band uses it to suit its own purposes.

From here we move into ‘Rave’, in which whippersnappers are reminded how this whole “dance-punk” thing is meant to be done: the stabbing synths propel the track in tandem with viscerally live drums. Although you could see the key change coming from a mile away, straight out of the book of pop song writing, it doesn’t matter. This lot wrote the book, and that fact’s clearer than ever as Harry smashes the high notes. When she proclaims: “It’s never been better”, it’s hard to disagree. Other highlights include the deliciously funky duet, ‘A Rose By Any Name’, with The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, featuring a hook that will cling to your ears for hours, and ‘Take Me in the Night’, a refreshingly organic track that shows off bassist Leigh Foxx’s admirable talents.

That’s not to say this otherwise pristine ointment isn’t sullied by a minority of flies. Tracks such as ‘Make Away’ and ‘Take it Back’, while perfectly delectable pop songs in themselves, are simply surrounded by superior peers.

Also, I can’t let the grating pseudo-EDM misdemeanour of ‘Mile High’ slip by without comment. At best, it sounds like a Swedish House Mafia B-side; at worst, it’s almost as if Martin Garrix had forced Stein off the mixing desk at gunpoint and done his very worst. Perhaps it was hoped that this would be this album’s ‘Rapture’. The foray is typical of Blondie’s boldness in incorporating modern musical techniques. In 1981 it worked; here, not so much. Regardless, this track is in a minority by itself: for every miss, there are three masterfully crafted pop earworms. Blondie are still a band, and a damn good one at that.

4/5 stars