Blondie – Panic of Girls (2011)

Posted: May 31, 2011 in Music

2011 has officially become the “year of the comeback.” Artists that haven’t been around for decades are throwing out albums so fast this year that I’m having trouble keeping up with them all. Many of these albums have been great listens and welcome returns of groups I’d frankly forgotten about. We’ve reviewed the latest offerings from The Human League, The Cars, Face To Face, Atari Teenage Riot, and The Beastie Boys – finding all of them quality releases. The latest entry into this legendary class belongs to new wave pioneers Blondie.

Officially formed in New York City in 1975, Blondie exploded on the international scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s with their punk-infused singles “Heart Of Glass,” “Call Me,” “The Tide Is High” and recently revived “Rapture” (which was for many the theme song to the rumored Christian rapture that failed to take place May 21, 2011.) The success of the band has them placed firmly in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (in 2006), and their classic hits still find their way on to the radio airwaves both here in America and abroad. Lead singer and founding member Debbie Harry is considered a pop icon – both in her music and fashion – influencing such artists as Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and Shirley Manson, amongst others. The band has made a few concert appearances over the last fifteen years, and even released a couple of albums along the way (1999’s No Exit & the critically acclaimed yet financial failure The Curse of Blondie in 2003,) but lineup changes and bitterness amongst ex-members has taken the luster out of one of rock’s most dynamic bands.

That is, until now.

Original members Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke have reformed the group and have their sights set on a return to glory with the band’s seventh album Panic of Girls. While many might see a new Blondie album as a waste of time, or worse, as an attempt to merely get another pay day on a sound and concept that isn’t relevant to music anymore, the truth is – this album is pretty damn good.

Blondie has always snuck into the musical garden and filled its basket with styles from varying genres. That trend continues on Panic of Girls – a handful of punk, a stalk or two of rhythm and blues, a sample of reggae, and a bunch of synth pop carefully chopped and mixed into a salad that can only be the work of these iconic rockers.

While Harry’s voice has noticeably changed a bit over the years, her style and energy are as fresh as they were three decades ago, and the accompanying music is as sharp and proud as ever. Catchy synths command the album, and the drums and guitars create their own niche over 11 tracks of new wave revival. Standout tracks include the album opener “D-Day,” “What I Heard,” the first single “Mother,” and the infectious cover of Sophia George’s 1985 reggae hit “Girlie Girlie.” In fact, the first eight tracks of the album will remind you of why you liked Blondie, and will impress you as to how amazing they still sound. For me, the album could have ended with “Sunday Smile,” and I would have been grinning for months of Sundays to come.

But that’s where the album took a turn for the worse. “Wipe Off My Sweat” is a collaboration with Zach Condon of indie-rock Beirut, and is sung entirely in Spanish. Im not against foreign language vocals, but it just felt misplaced here. Harry seems to struggle a bit with the syncopation through the track, and instead of sounding like a great Blondie song, it sounded like a poor Shakira one. Injury was added to insult on the next track “Le Bleu,” this time sung in French, and the musical style matches the theme, incorporating accordions and light guitars that remind you of the streets of Paris. The problem here is that I don’t see the relationship between new wave music and France. At all. It not only felt like a misstep, it felt like I was suddenly listening to a completely different album, which up until this track had been a fluent, cohesive set of songs. Now I realize that Blondie has had far more success overseas through their career than they have in America (which is a bit strange considering their origin,) therefore I imagine these last two tracks to be more appealing to their international audience. But for me, the average American Blondie listener, I just didn’t care for them. Throw in the forgettable last track “China Shoes,” (again with the foreign stuff) and the album fizzled out a bit.

But I’m not going to let a bad dessert ruin an otherwise fantastic meal. Panic of Girls had plenty of highlights – enough to outweigh the last quarter of the album – that made this a memorable listen worthy of high rotation on my iPod. Harry and mates still have what it takes to remain formidable contenders to the new wave throne, and this album proves it. Hopefully the next time around they take a pass on all the foreign language mumbo jumbo and just be themselves. When they focus on the style and form we’re used to, they succeed in writing memorable, timeless tracks. And that’s what (most of) this album is.

7/10

Tracklist:
01 – D-Day
02 – What I Heard
03 – Mother
04 – The End The End
05 – Girlie Girlie
06 – Love Doesn’t Frighten Me
07 – Words in My Mouth
08 – Sunday Smile
09 – Wipe Off My Sweat
10 – Le Bleu
11 – China Shoes

The American release date is not slated until September 2011, but the European date is June 4th, with various countries receiving their release dates throughout the summer.

http://www.amazon.com/Panic-Girls-Blondie/dp/B00511P4OA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1306859015&sr=1-2

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