Blondie are back with their tenth album, ‘Ghosts of Download’, named after the spirits that allegedly live in the electronics, on the fortieth anniversary of the band’s formation. The new release coming in at just over fifty minutes, which also comes packaged with a CD of their big hits re-recorded and a live DVD, is a mixed affair and one that takes a few listens to really hit home. Strongly focussed around reggae and experimentation – some of which pays off and some of which doesn’t – it’s an album that will settle in eventually but it lacks the highlights of their most recent albums.
Opener ‘Sugar On The Side’ sometimes relegates lead singer Deborah Harry to a secondary role with the Caribbean reggae calls proving to be the main hook. Track one is less sung than spoken and it’s mid-tempo styling lacks the gusto we’d expect from one of their usual openings, but it’s hooky enough to keep you going and the chorus and synths eventually settle in.
‘Rave’, which follows, is a more electronic number that befits the musical style of the title in a milder form and has drumming and synths that echoes back to ‘Atomic’ at times. Harry’s vocals appear quite ethereal on here and indistinct, but it’s a more solid number than the opener with a faster pace and a stronger production focus, harking back to their most famous period. The focus on the electronic side suits the piece and the build up to the end, with layered vocals between Harry and guest vocalist Miss Guy, really works well.
The Beth Ditto-featuring first single ‘A Rose By Any Name’ is the best song on the LP, a catchy call-and-response number that sounds just as good as anything from their famous period. Firmly landing in the pop box, though the repetition of the title makes up most of the piece, Ditto’s addition really brings up the record and it’s an ideal vocal partnership. A great pop single and the heart of the record, and a song you can’t avoid singing along to.
‘Winter’ is a darker number with a verse that doesn’t really warm up the cold of the title though the bridge and eventual chorus are better. The fourth track is one that will take a few spins to show its highlights, but even then it’s a little dull and rambling in its verses and Blondie feel on autopilot here. It improves as it goes but you might struggle to give it that time.
Latest single ‘I Want To Drag You Around’ proves that getting in some fresher writers for the band will pay dividends as this slower paced but reggae-influenced number will win you over, especially when it comes to the sitar solo two-thirds in. It’s not as exciting as their first single, but a deserved cut from the album and another highlight of the album.
‘I Screwed Up’ with its Liberty X / Pirate opening channels the sound of the Carribean on its musical vibe it’s just a shame that the lyrics and the music don’t necessarily gel, with Harry speaking over the music in a very disjointed way. The chorus is much better and is the saving grace of an average track on the piece. The rap from Los Rakas in the middle adds some variety to it and the second half of the track is much better when it focusses on the chorus rather than the difficult verses.
As we hit the middle point of the record we get an experimental cover of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood classic ‘Relax’, which starts off as a slow, sensual piano-led album with a smattering of voices joining Harry in bringing the track to life. Then after three minutes the track starts to shift awkwardly into a more faithful adaptation of the original which is more familiar to fans of the original, even if the conjuncture lacks polish. It’s a brave experimental move and you can’t accuse them of riding the popularity of the original, but the three different parts – the slow version, the instrumental electronic heavy version that sounds like it’s sampling the Bowser levels from Super Mario, then a classic ending – don’t always work well together, and it’s unlikely to prove to be anyone’s favourite take on it.
‘Take Me In The Night’ is an average track, settling in nicely, but not particularly noteworthy. ‘Make A Way’ is a better, much more jaunty track, with better lyrics and a positive vibe and a strong, uptempo chorus that is the best for several tracks.
‘Mile High’ feels more like a song from the 1997 album ‘No Exit’, at least until it turns a little bit Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and then electronic club with stadium-esque sounds, and it’s a nice enough track that is more evocative than musically captivating.
Onto ‘Euphoria’ and this marching-beat number progresses well but again does little special. ‘Take It Back’ thankfully lifts the album up again with its bouny beat, catchy chorus and fun vibe, and gives you a reason to listen to the album again after a few lacking numbers. Concluding with a simple, but enjoyable ‘Na na na’ breakdown, this leads positively into the final track ‘Backroom’, another better number on the LP with its mid-tempo pace, chunky synth line and noteworthy chorus, though still not up to the highlights of the piece, though it feels like a solid way to end the album, wrapping things up well.
The LP is also joined by a CD of the best of Blondie’s songs re-recorded last year. Including practically all the songs you’d want from the band and a few others, only the biggest fans will notice the difference on the records as they’re all pretty faithful to the originals which is either a positive reflection on the band’s ability to keep the tracks going and Harry’s voice, or a pointless, sound-a-like selection lacking in imagination. For those without a greatest hits collection or the fanatic collector it’s a great bonus, and they’re great faithful versions, but I’d have liked something a bit more experimental to show the shift in styles in forty years.
Overall the collection for 40 years of Blondie is positive. The re-recorded classics is a solid selection well done and the live DVD and deluxe booklet a bonus. ‘Ghost of Download’ itself isn’t their best album and has its fair share of filler, but has a handful of strong singles and some positive experimentation to keep their fans happy. It’s an album you’ll need to give a few listen to before you make a judgement on whether you like it, but in my opinion it’s a mixed bag and unless you’re a huge fan you should get the two main singles and a smattering of others after your listen to them, mainly ‘Rave’ or ‘Euphoria’. Maybe not ghosts of download, but pick sand choose to download certainly.