Panic of Girls is Blondie‘s first studio album since 2003, marking the band’s long-awaited return. At the core of the legendary group are its three original members – singer Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke. Rounding out the current lineup are bassist Leigh Foxx, keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen and recent addition Tommy Kessler on guitar.
In late 2009 the group recorded over thirty tracks in Woodstock, NY with producer Jeff Saltzman (The Killers, The Sounds and Fischerspooner); in Spring 2010 they added the finishing touches to the album with My Chemical Romance producer Kato Khandwala. Interestingly, Panic is only the second album in the band’s history to be recorded outside of its hometown of Manhattan (1980′s Autoamerican which spawned both Rapture and Tide is High was recorded in Los Angeles).
Opening track D-Day begins with Burke‟s unmistakable drumbeat. There is no turning back as the listener is taken on a roller-coaster ride blending the band’s trademark new wave style with a barrage of 21st century electronic noises. The chaotic sound scape leads to an anthemic chorus with frontwoman Debbie Harry proclaiming ‘transfer your love to me!’ As if she had to ask twice. . .
Penned by Matt Katz-Bohen and his wife Laurel, What I Heard exemplifies what Blondie does best – catchy, radio-friendly pop with a slightly menacing undercurrent. The song was premiered during the U.K. leg of last summer’s Endangered Species tour and has already become a fan favorite, fitting seamlessly into their set alongside their other hits.
Long before the Apple store and Pastis gentrified NYC’s Meatpacking district, the neighborhood was the seedy epicenter for drug dealing, prostitution, and a burgeoning BSDM subculture. Mother was one of the many nightclubs in the area that embodied the counter-culture ethos. The electro-pop single from Panic laments the club’s closing and pays homage to a more decadent time in the city’s checkered past.
Along with Mother, Khandwala worked with the band on the ballad The End, The End. Very few bands could transform a chill reggae song about watching the impending apocalypse into a sensual lullaby.
Blondie never turned up their noses at covering obscure songs or dipping into other genres for inspiration. Covering Sophia George’s Girlie Girlie was a no-brainer for member Chris Stein, who discovered the one-hit wonder on a Trojan Records compilation album; it serves as the perfect ‘summer in the city’ tune.
Love Doesn’t Frighten Me At All is another Katz-Bohen composition and features Elliot Easton from The Cars providing an extra dose of rockin’ guitar – the perfect foil for the Debbie‟s saccharine vocals and Matt‟s flirty keyboard lines.
The album loses a bit of its momentum with Words in My Mouth, a lackluster song written by Debbie and the production team Super Buddha (Barb Morrison and Charlie Nieland). Unfortunately Words. . . sounds more like an outtake from Harry’s 2007 solo effort Necessary Evil.
Longtime fan of the indie-folk group Beirut, Stein also chose to cover their song Sunday Smile. Beirut frontman Zach Condon happily obliged to play his trademark trumpet on Blondie’s sweet reggae rendition. Definitely single worthy.
Apart from a rare 1980 Mexican 7″ vinyl single for Call Me, the band hasn‟t officially released any songs in Spanish . . . until now. Wipe Off My Sweat is a Spanglish dance track with a fun, catchy chorus. Although hearing Debbie coo ‘Papi, papi’ can be somewhat cringeworthy.
The band continues its obsession with French music (first heard on classics like Sunday Girl and Denis) with the song Le Bleu A L’ame. Written by Stein and Gilles Riberolles, the pair drew inspiration from greats like Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. Rock and roll factoid: Stein produced a record for Gilles’ band Casino Music in ’79 for the no wave, disco, and post punk label ZE Records.
Panic comes to an end with the haunting China Shoes. Extremely personal lyrics and a mature sound make it the perfect closing track to an eclectic body of work. With work already started on Panic’s follow up, it’s clear the band is not planning on retiring anytime soon.