Ever since their reunion in 1997, Blondie have released their fair share of shaky albums.
After achieving a number one single with Maria, many critics panned its accompanying album, 1997’s No Exit. Although certainly stronger efforts, the next two albums also met lukewarm reviews.
Released as two albums in one as part of their 40th anniversary, the Blondie 4(0)-Ever double release starts out well enough. The first disk contains re-recordings of some of their biggest hits. The band still sound great, and Debbie Harry, despite quite obvious use of studio enhancement, is still in fine voice. Heart of Glass, Call Me and Rapture sound particularly good, even three decades after their original versions.
Unfortunately, their tenth studio album, which the usually divine Blondie decided to release to mark their 40th anniversary, is possibly the least divine of them all. The group has been exploring dance and electronic music since 2003’s The Curse of Blondie, and managed to make it work for them on both that album and the one after that. However, this time, it’s just not come together. It’s not so much the failing of the band that is responsible for this, it’s the barrage of collaborations.
Opening with the insufferably Eastern-flavoured dance track Sugar on the Side, it soon becomes obvious that Blondie don’t appear to trust their own talents as much as they may have done on the last album, the far superior Panic of Girls. Debbie Harry leaves half of the singing on this track to Systema Solar, who sing their parts in Spanish, just adding to the bizarreness of this opener. Miss Guy features on the next track, Rave, which is thankfully an improvement.
A cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax is undoubtedly the worst moment on the album – made even worse by the number of outside artists present that sing the majority of the song, including Keisha Williams and Keilah Beaz.
The pure Blondie tracks are the best ones among the 13 on Ghosts of Download. Winter is a gutsy electro-rocker which showcases Harry’s vocal abilities just as much as the group’s collective song writing talents. Make A Way and Mile High are two more examples that the group doesn’t need anywhere near as much outside help as they have had on this album.
Euphoria, another Blondie-composed track, is a nod back to 11:59, a song from their most acclaimed album, Parallel Lines.
Although they may not have written it, the single I Want to Drag You Around, which appears to be a new favourite on BBC Radio 2’s drive-time programmes, is a light and bubbly pop track.
The closer, Backroom, is an obscure choice, which ends the album on a somewhat abrupt note, but has a catchy groove, none the less.
Since they shot down the rumours that they were retiring last year, one can only hope that Blondie have at least one more album up their sleeves. They still have the goods, but they appear to need their self-belief restoring and get back-to-basics, which is what made them so good in the first place.