Sugar on the side....
Released May 2014
This is a double album release from Blondie, a group synonymous with the new wave era of 1977-82 who are no still plugging away, trying to adapt their music to fit in with contemporary trends and styles. Fair play to them for doing that and trying to stay relevant, although the music they are currently putting out does not appeal to me in the way their output did back in the late seventies/early eighties.
There are sixteen new tracks on the Ghosts Of Download new material section of the album It is quite difficult to analyse each and every one of them on an individual basis, as I usually do with albums, because, for me, an awful lot of them are very similar. A pounding, digital, contemporary backbeat underpins all of them and electronic keyboards are far more prominent than guitars. I feel when you have a great rock drummer like Clem Burke then you should use him a lot more than this music allows. Listening to the whole album, a swathe of electronic keyboards and programmed drums sweeps all over you. A few selected tracks is quite enjoyable, but all sixteen of them gets a bit samey. Maybe I am just showing my age. A clubber I never was. That said, several listens in and I am warming to it, which is always a good sign. Beneath the booming backing there are some subtleties. As with all contemporary recordings, you need to turn the volume down a bit to fully appreciate it, and I am someone who likes their music loud. I have two hi-fi systems. One is far more bassy than the other. This album sounds better on the less bassy system. It is normally the opposite. Basically, this is an electro-pop album, certainly not a new wave one, but this is what Blondie do now and I can accept that.
TRACK LISTING - GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD
1. Sugar On The Side
3. A Rose By Any Name
5. I Want To Drag You Around
6. I Screwed Up
8. Take Me In The Night
9. Make A Way
10. Mile High
12. Take It Back
14. Put Some Color On You
15. Can't Stop Wanting
Sugar On The Side has a Spanish spoken intro and some vaguely Santana-esque rhythms before the track settles into an appealing, mid-pace disco-ish groove with a strong vocal from Debbie Harry . It has some Spanish hip/hop style interjections that add atmosphere to it. Rave has a searing guitar intro and another confident vocal, with a slightly Heart Of Glass beat before the thumping dance beat kicks in. The stabbing guitar bits retain a bit of a new wave vibe. A Rose By Any Name has a catchy chorus refrain although again the beat is unadventurous. It is still quite a good track.
Winter is a favourite of mine, with a late seventies riff powering it on and a good vocal. It sounds a bit Stonesy in places. Not in its sound but its construction and basic melody. You could imagine them doing their own version of it. Well, I can anyway. Particularly the “never think twice” bit. It has a Robert Fripp on “Heroes”-style guitar solo too. Good track. I Want To Drag You Around has a quirky little rhythm to it, swirling keyboards and a plaintive, mysterious vocal. I Screwed Up has a bit of a Cajun-style accordion sound and a Latin-ish groove to it. Burke’s drums sound more “proper” on this one. It features more Hispanic hip/hop vocal enhancements, which are again positive ones.
The cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax is pretty pointless, to be honest. For the first time on the album, the beat disappears and the whole tempo is slowed down. Really, this is the track that needed that “da-da-da” riff and sladegehammer drums. No, half of it is done at walking pace with ghostly, ethereal vocals. It doesn’t work for me. That trademark riff comes in half way through, but really slowed down. No. Sorry. The last couple of minutes save it just a bit. Only just, though.
Take Me In The Night has a Kraftwerk-style vocal and echoes of some of The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s output. It is actually quite an addictive track. The tuneful, lively Make A Way is as close to early eighties Blondie as the album gets. Mile High just washes over you in its electronic way, although it has some subtle guitar parts in places. Euphoria has a slight reggae vibe to it and is ok, but I’m starting to tire by now. Eleven tracks - fine. Sixteen - too many.
As for the remaining tracks - Take It Back is lively, beaty and appealing with an impressive vocal; Backroom is a lyrically-odd number about “drinking all night in the backroom”; Put Some Color On You may have sounded better at the beginning of the album; the same applies to Can't Stop Wanting, athough Prism closes things on a bit of a Fade Away And Radiate slow vibe.
Now for the re-recordings of the greatest hits…
TRACK LISTING - BLONDIE REDUX
1. Heart Of Glass
3. The Tide Is High
5. Sunday Girl
6. Hanging On The Telephone
8. One Way Or Another
9. Call Me
11. Rip Her To Shreds
While these classic hits have all been re-recorded, it is not an exercise in re-interpreting them. To the last, they are played straight, with just the occasional added sound effect here and there, such as on Heart Of Glass. Debbie Harry's voice sounds older (obviously) and carries less of the languid but vibrant tones of when she was much younger. Clem Burke's drumming, though, is as good as it ever was. The overall sound is bassier and warmer which is not surprising considering the advances in recording techniques, but, other than that, it is nothing more than an interesting listen every now and again. Debbie's new rap on Rapture sounds, unsurprisingly, less vital and new than it did. Strange to think that this, upon release, was one of the first times anyone had heard rap. Apparently, Maria is the original 1999 recording. No wonder it didn't sound any different!
Below is a clip of the group performing A Rose By Any Other Name (without live footage, just sound).
GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD B-/REDUX C+