Album reviews: Blondie | The Black Keys

Two classic pop bands, Abba and Blondie, are making a thing of their 40th anniversaries this year.

Blondie singer Debbie Harry. Picture: Getty

Blondie: Blondie 4(0) Ever

Caroline Records, £18.99

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Star rating: * * *

Only Blondie, however, going great guns again since reforming in the late 90s, are in a position to release new material. So it is a pity that their latest album Ghosts Of Download, ready and willing since last year, must share the glory in badly named birthday package Blondie 4(0) Ever with an album of re-recordings of their biggest hits, spun as the Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux.

This seems a questionable creative gambit and a craven commercial one too, especially as Ghosts Of Download does a good enough job of reinforcing such Blondie hallmarks as Debbie Harry’s foxy vocals, casually oozing attitude – “I can’t be worried about everything you do,” she purrs at one point – and the band’s confident borrowing from reggae, hip-hop and disco to embellish their new wave sound.

Ghosts Of Download features a number of collaborations to help them on their way – Colombia’s Systema Solar and Panamanian rappers Los Rakas respectively enhancing the Latino sashay Sugar On The Side and the reggaeton-influenced I Screwed Up.

But the album is better characterised by its brace of sleek disco pop numbers. Kylie and Gaga would draw blood for Take Me In The Night but it’s Beth Ditto of The Gossip who gets to add her distinctive tones to hip electro track A Rose By Any Name, while Harry puts her best bitch face on for Take It Back. Mile High is the only formulaic rave pop letdown.

Meanwhile in curiosity corner, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax is covered as a ghostly piano track with coolly monotonous multi-tracked vocals and sonorous guitar before its pounding, lascivious rhythm kicks in.

Blondie have always had a way with cover versions and two of their best loved, The Tide Is High and Hanging On The Telephone, are revisited on the greatest hits collection – although, arguably, all 11 of these “redux” hits are cover versions, faithfully rendered and adding nothing to the superior original recordings. Harry’s voice is not quite as limber at the extremes of her range, but she still has attitude to spare. It’s a no-win exercise, as these serviceable re-recordings still manage to show up the new songs which cannot hope to compete with even a safe facsimile of such supercool classics. FIONA SHEPHERD


The Black Keys: Turn Blue

Star rating: * * * *

Nonesuch, £13.99

Accidental arena sensations The Black Keys move further away from their raw bluesy beginnings and towards more refined rock credentials on this follow-up to the mega-selling El Camino. Turn Blue has neither the cut and thrust nor the stomping glam rock virility of its predecessor but producer Danger Mouse makes alluring use of Dan Auerbach’s falsetto range on 10 Lovers and the slinky soul of the title track and layers on the processed strings elsewhere to seductive effect. At the last moment, the duo rebel against his studio finery, and go native on bubblegum caveman rocker Gotta Get Away. FS

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become

Star rating: * * *

Virgin EMI, £14.99

What Have We Become reunites the Beautiful South’s vocal frontline after more than a decade apart, bringing Abbott out of retirement and giving Heaton a mouthpiece for his refreshingly pointed lyrics which, on this outing, address racial and cultural tensions on the deceptively upbeat One Man’s England, proclaim modern society to be “opinionless, sad and overweight” on the title track, skewer the music business on I Am Not A Muse (“I am not in a band because daddy didn’t understand”) and suggest a cruel fate for Phil Collins on the sardonic When I Get Back To Blighty, all to a breezy soundtrack of northern soul, country, new wave and power pop. FS


Mozart Requiem: Dunedin Consort

Star rating: * * * * *

Linn, £15.99

The high-class partnership between Linn Records, the Dunedin Consort and the restless academic mind of Dunedin director John Butt continues apace with this absorbing reconstruction of the first performance of Mozart’s unfinished Requiem. In effect, Butt is stating the case for Süssmayr, who knew Mozart, knew his compositional style, yet whose initial completion of the work was blurred when, even in the first printed edition, amendments were made. Of particular interest is Dunedin’s use of minimal vocal forces which brings clarity, and no loss of welter, to a truly stylish performance.




Star rating: * * * *


Plan B has been devised by the fiendishly clever Bevvy Sisters – harmonising vocalists Heather MacLeod and Gina Rae, from Scotland, and Cera Impala, from Arizona, USA, plus token male and essential guitarist David Donnelly – who collectively sound as if they’ve been crackling out over the airwaves since the golden age of radio. One minute they’re evoking the Boswell Sisters (an earthier version of the Andrews Sisters) as in the opening, gospelly Ain’t No Grave; next they’re generating a whiff of the steamy South, hollering over waspish slide guitar in Donnelly’s own song, Junkyard Band. Their own compositions on the 11 track CD include Devil May Care, also by Donnelly, which sounds like another 40s or 50s period piece, and Impala’s slyly salacious Row My Boat, while traditional numbers showcasing their ultra-tight harmonising include old murder ballad The Willow Garden

and the solemn scaffold testimony of Father Adieu.



Oran Etkin: Gathering Light

Star rating: * * *

Motéma Music, £13.99

The Israel-born, New York-based bass clarinet specialist explored both Malian and Jewish influences in a contemporary jazz context in his debut album

in 2009. Etkin casts his net even wider on this release, drawing on music he encountered while touring in various corners of the world. Thus, Indonesian music shapes Gambang Suling, Japanese music meets the blues in Takeda (Homesick Blues), and Guangzhou Taxi explores a Chinese influence. He revisits Jewish music in Shirim Ad Kan and Der Gasn Nign (Street Song), and for good measure closes with his own take on When

It’s Sleepy Time Down South in homage to Louis Armstrong, his first jazz hero. It is all deftly done, and never sounds kitsch. Etkin is abetted by a superb progressive band that features guitarist Lionel Loueke, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Nasheet Waits.



Faik Chelebi: The Classical Mugam of Azerbaijan

Star rating: * * * *

Silk Road House, Web only

Azeri mugam is much more than a mere offshoot of Persian classical music, even though it shares the

same basic structures: as Izaly Zemstovsky, the producer of this CD, suggests, it has much in common with European Baroque music. As Faik Chelebi demonstrates, it’s a wonderfully refined art in which the tar lute weaves intricate patterns in its evocation of mood and story. Each piece is a tissue of many smaller elements, some pre-composed, others improvised, in a microtonal sound-world which is infinitely more subtle than the do-re-mi one Western listeners normally inhabit.