If Blondie’s hard to love 2014 album Ghosts of Download sounded like a band straining to fit into a world of shiny pop dominated by production teams, file sharing and featured artists, Pollinator is thankfully more of a back to basics record.
Producer John Congleton’s insistence that Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke actually worked together in the same room has made it the most coherent record they have released since their glorious comeback in 1999 with No Exit.
That there are only two Harry/Stein co-writes present – the robust Doom or Destiny and the witty Love Level (in which Harry saucily observes “Everyone can see that you’ve got inches on me/But when we’re lying down the difference diminishes”) – doesn’t actually seem to matter.
The Dev Hynes contribution, Long Time, is a throwback to the classic New Wave/disco sound of yore; My Monster, a Johnny Marr song, also has echoes of their heyday, while Gravity, written by Charli XCX, is another of their dalliances with bubblegum pop.
Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio chips in on the four-to-the-floor number Fun and Best Day Ever, written by longtime Blondie fans Nick Valensi of The Strokes and Sia Furler, has a corking chorus.
A welcome return to form.
After the chaos and confrontation of Australian post-punk band The Birthday Party Nick Cave found a more durable vehicle for his talents with the Bad Seeds.
Across 16 albums in 33 years they have produced some fine music, influenced by everything from Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers’ Southern Gothic to blues mythology, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Lovely Creatures distils their material, from the clattering goth rock of From Her To Eternity to the altogether more meditative Higgs Boson Blues (from 2014’s Push The Sky Away).
Along the way are several of their best tunes – Tupelo, Deanna, People Ain’t No Good, Straight To You, Red Right Hand and The Ship Song – the killer rocker Dig Lazarus Dig!!! and enduring live favourites The Mercy Seat and Stagger Lee.
Plus, inevitably, their lone top 20 hit – Where The Wild Roses Grow, a murder ballad with Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue that’s become something of a modern standard.
For the uninitiated this is the perfect primer for one of the greatest canons in modern rock.
Southampton’s DJ Format and Canadian rapper Abdominal first forged a promising partnership on the 2003 album Music For The Mature B-Boy.
If that record proved a slow burning, word of mouth success, Still Hungry shows their appetite for bustling breakbeats, soulful cut-ups and clever, supple lyrical flows remains undiminished.
We’re Back makes particularly effective use of an attractive soul-jazz drum loop and Soul Bossa Nova-style flute. Dirt takes a swipe at the modern quest for perfection and instead urges the listener to “channel your inner sea cow”.
The Scenes is reminiscent of Daisy Age era De La Soul and has a lyric that opens the door on the more humdrum aspects of an MC’s existence. “In my experience it’s more business than show,” Abdominal laments.
“If there’s one thing I know it’s pressure,” he adds, over a towering horn riff, in Forged From Hardship. By White Rapper Abdominal is questioning his own place in the hip-hop community. “At what point does appreciation become a pattern of appropriation?” he asks, conscious that white musicians have regularly plundered from black culture. An intelligent, funky release.
“I won’t be put in my place” declares singer Paul Smith in Work And Then Wait, one of a number of songs addressing the sorry state of Britain in Maximo Park’s sixth album, Risk To Exist.
Arguably the North East band’s poppiest release to date – indeed it could even been seen as something of a companion to Kaiser Chiefs’ last album, Stay Together – it is also their most overtly political.
Time and again Smith returns to his theme. “You look out for yourself and your mates, that’s natural I’d say/But then you trample over the less well off and downtrodden they stay,” he fumes in What Did We Do To Deserve This?
“I call you to account for the duties that you flout” he adds in What Equals Love? “Show some responsibility” he urges in the title track.
Risk To Exist may not provide answers to the questions it poses but the Newcastle quartet are right to ask them. When they’re yoked to a set of stirring, danceable tunes, it’s pretty hard to resist.
Swedish electronic band Little Dragon’s fourth album Nabuma Rubberband might have been their most commercially successful – even earning them a Grammy nomination – but it doesn’t seem to have made the creative process behind its follow-up any easier.
“The making of this album has been a struggle,” recently admitted singer Yukimi Nagano, adding: “We are four strong wills who find it really frustrating to compromise.”
Sometimes such tension can bring out an artist’s best work; on Season High, sadly, it has produced a muddle of a record that has one or two stand-out moments but is mostly so-so.
On the plus side there’s Celebrate, a slick electro-funk opener that owes a heavy debt to Prince; Sweet is also a dotty ‘sugar rush’ of a song, all airy vocals and early 90s synth squelches.
The vocal on Should I has hints of Neneh Cherry, along with a promising gear-change mid-song.
The rest, unfortunately, is textured by tame.