As a fan of Blondie’s original output, it seems borderline impossible to review their latest release without inviting comparison. Pollinator retains some of the upbeat drum rhythms and bold vocals of their 1970s origins, but the substandard songs are drowned in a midi-keyboard mire more typical of later The Killers or other specious electro-rock. With half of their original line-up remaining, only 2 songs are penned by original writing team Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, and contributions from a bizarrely wide field (including Johnny Marr, comedy duo The Gregory Brothers, and the voice actor behind Linda from Bob’s Burgers) do precisely nothing to improve the song quality.
The stellar drum roll commencing Doom Or Destiny is a misleading intro to the album: the first 2 tracks faintly echo Sunday Girl and Heart of Glass respectively, but the melody lines parody rather than replicate their better singles. Punchy drumming just about redeems Fun: the disco groove and ride touches, plus several clipped drum variations (not forgetting the cowbell), narrowly balance out toe-curling lyrics. After the singles are exhausted, however, the mediocrity deepens like a coastal shelf. My Monster (less Frankenstein than Frankweenie) is eye-twitchingly cringeworthy, despite – or possibly because of – Johnny Marr’s writing credit; Best Day Ever, with its shaky vocals, is of parallel awfulness with the similarly-titled One Direction doggerel. Gravity is cheesier than camembert, but whereas their 1999 comeback album No Exit was ironic to the core, Pollinator is about as self-aware as Paris Hilton: a rare exception is Love Level, where trumpets and (literally) tongue-in-cheek lyrics combine with a middle-8 section that appears to be ripped from a Pitbull song. Blondie were always at their best when weaving pastiche and irony into songs with actual integrity: anything less is simply papering over cracks. Nonetheless, Fragments is a solid (if unimaginative) album closer – it appears to be composed of fragments from a discarded Bond theme and the Twin Peaks soundtrack, at least until it shifts tempo inexplicably. However, in “you can’t create more time, you just make it”, Fragments exemplifies the blathering nonsense, often peppered with profanity, that populates all the lyrics on Pollinator.
The production is obviously indebted to the input of The Strokes’ metronomic guitarist Nick Valensi (having come full circle from Blondie’s influence on their early sound): it has some of the robotic style – but none of the substance – of Angles. Every song is too long, and too much effort has gone into masking song quality with glitzy post-production: Debbie Harry’s once distinctive voice is too often lost in the mix. In a recent interview, she seemed proud of not “falling into a lull”, and to be fair to the band their recent output has been up to date with current musical trends. However, a redeeming feature about comeback album No Exit was that it was unapologetically of its time, impishly ironic even in its inadequacy – the best thing Pollinator achieves is to make you want to re-listen to every Blondie album written more than 3 decades ago. The tongue which remained so long in Blondie’s cheek is now surely pointed mockingly at any fan who pays money for this album.