Iconic New Wave band Blondie, still going strong 40 years after its founding, returns with its first studio album since 2011’s Panic of Girls.
4(0) Ever goes down the route of Michael Jackson’s HIStory, as Ghosts of Download is packaged with Deluxe Redux, a compilation of surprisingly faithful 2013 re-recordings of the group’s greatest hits produced by Kato Khandwala.
As its title of the new studio disc suggests, the Rock Hall of Fame-inducted group and long-running collaborator Jeff Saltzman move towards a computerised sound with pre-programmed parts. The album is less punk and One Way or Another, and more 1980s synth pop and The Tide of High (which the defiant opening kiss off Sugar On The Side with Colombian electronica artist Systema Solar seems to recall).
This tropical flavour continues on the sultry, sitar-inflected I Want To Drag You Around, the exotic I Screwed Up (featuring bilingual hip-hop act Los Rakas) and the passionate, tequila-soaked soap opera album closer Backroom.
Frontwoman Debbie Harry is still on the prowl. She celebrates her newly declared bisexuality on the hooky ABBA-esque A Rose By Any Name (with Gossip’s Beth Ditto) and even turns half of a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s risque Relax into a tender piano ballad. However, it’s a shame that Harry doesn’t quite sound like herself. Although her vocals sound natural on Make A Way and Backroom, they are normally so processed that listeners wouldn’t even know they were listening to Blondie.
Other parts of the album bridge the past, present and future. Euphoria captures a bit of David Bowie’s The Secret Life of Arabia, which was recorded just as Blondie began to be noticed in 1977. Rave closely resembles Atomic, whose fast pace and throbbing bass is suited for strobe lights at Studio 54 (if it were still open). Blondie even sounds like its proteges Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the eccentric, artsy pop of Take Me In The Night. Nevertheless, there are awkward, anachronistic moments like the accordion on I Screwed Up (which sounds like a homage to On The Floor) and Mile High (with the EDM-lite drops of David Guetta and Calvin Harris).
Listeners hearing both Deluxe Redux and Ghost of Downloads know that Blondie may not quite reach those musical heights of the late 1970s (let alone 1999’s comeback Maria), but is producing music with attitude that gets people dancing.