Growing into old age can be an interesting and strange process. As one’s skin begins to loosen and hair starts to thin, they have a life’s worth of joys, sorrows, mistakes, and achievements from which to draw. If the twilight years of one’s life are meant to be quiet, contemplative, or reserved, no one has passed this memo along to Debbie Harry—or, more likely, she and the rest of Blondie have received such notice and gleefully torn it into shreds on Pollinator, their eleventh studio album.
Through Pollinator‘s first three tracks, the band launch themselves hard from the gates. They tread some of the same water that has helped make them a household name over the last four decades. A gut-punch opener (“Doom or Destiny”) rollicks atop crunchy drumming and features a delightful cameo from Joan Jett, whose harmonies lift Harry’s impassioned crooning into the glistening pop-rock stratosphere.
The single “Long Time” smacks of the earliest Blondie hits, but with the sort of patience and refined instincts that bolster an outfit that has been around the block together more than once. Over bright synths and driving percussion, Harry delivers the single’s infectious hook with the same earnest cadence that endeared Blondie to listeners all those years ago. Similarly, “Already Naked” also stands out from the pack as an exceptional romp, simultaneously wielding ruefulness and nostalgia with deft hands.
Pollinator hits its share of roadblocks, especially in the album’s latter half. Lead single “Fun” is fairly forgettable and doesn’t quite live up to its title, and “When I Gave Up on You” swerves strangely into a pseudo-pop country territory. The track “Love Level” is a weird, dissonant experience, during which John Roberts of Bob’s Burgers—yes, the voice of Linda Belcher—channels his inner Justin Timberlake to sing “everybody fucks Tall John.” This song rides the line between amazing and terrible so closely that it’s impossible to decide on which side it falls.
But despite the songwriting snags, Blondie still deliver the goods. Their entire discography is a master class in fun, of artists that can avoid taking themselves too seriously at the same time as not treating themselves as a joke. Though Pollinator is far from a perfect album, when it hits the notes right, it’s some of the best, most bubbly work that the band have done in years.
Closing track “Fragments” (originally written and performed by Adam Johnston, a.k.a. An Unkindness) opens ballad-like, before launching into the kind of upbeat, snarling rock that any Blondie devotee will recognize and love. Before the beat picks up in its latter half and brings the album to an energetic, crashing conclusion, Harry sings, “You can’t create more time. You just make it. If you want a new life, just take it.”
An appropriate enough sentiment, as Blondie continue blazing ahead, still in the thick of a long, venerated career.