Blondie: Living In Havana (BMG)
Verdict: Havana Ball
John Mayer: Sob Rock (Columbia)
Verdict: Having a bawl
Clairo: Sling (Polydor)
Verdict: Bedroom pop beauty
Blondie were always one of the more imaginative acts to emerge from the storied New York punk club CBGB in the 1970s.
Singer Debbie Harry’s new wave credentials were impeccable, but the band she fronted soon outgrew the limitations of three-chord rock songs. They topped the UK charts with a disco single, Heart Of Glass, sparking cries of ‘Sell out!’ from their peroxide-dyed peers. Other hits included a classic reggae cover, The Tide Is High, and the brilliant Rapture, one of the first singles to mix rap and rock.
So it’s no surprise to find the band, with Harry still in magnificent voice at 76, continuing to take chances. Vivir En La Habana, out today on vinyl and digitally, was made in Cuba and puts a Latin spin on some of their biggest hits. Made on a visit to the island in 2019, it’s billed as an EP, but is actually a 40-minute live album, with three of its six tracks expanded into lengthy medleys.
Singer Debbie Harry’s new wave credentials were impeccable, but the band she fronted soon outgrew the limitations of three-chord rock songs
Invited to Havana by the Cuban ministry of culture, Harry and her bandmates stayed for four nights, rehearsing with local jazz-fusion group Sintesis and playing two concerts with them at the Teatro Mella. That trip is also the basis of a forthcoming short film by director Rob Roth, so the album doubles as an official soundtrack.
Some songs lend themselves well to the Latin treatment. With Harry joined by a brass section and Sintesis singers Ele Valdes and Maria del Carmen Avila, The Tide Is High becomes a feelgood Caribbean fiesta close in spirit to Jamaican singer John Holt’s 1967 original.
Originally sung in Spanish, Wipe Off My Sweat also sits comfortably in a Cuban setting, with Clem Burke’s rock-solid drumming bolstered by Latin percussion and flamenco guitars.
Other tracks stick to a more familiar game plan. Heart Of Glass, an inevitable delight, includes a diversion into Donna Summer’s Euro-disco standard I Feel Love. A more recent single, 2017’s Long Time, is an electronic dance workout co-written with London singer Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange. With Harry’s voice a tuneful focal point, both tracks should feature again when Blondie tour the UK in the autumn.
Invited to Havana by the Cuban ministry of culture, Harry and her bandmates stayed for four nights, rehearsing with local jazz-fusion group Sintesis and playing two concerts with them at the Teatro Mella
The group remain the embodiment of downtown New York cool, and they use the album’s medleys to salute some of the city’s other great pop acts, dropping in excerpts from house trio Deee-Lite’s Groove Is In The Heart and 1960s girl group The Shangri-Las’ Train From Kansas City. Rapture segues into a sizzling take on the Beastie Boys’ (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).
The band’s new wave roots aren’t forgotten — there’s a rousing version of 1979’s underrated Dreaming — but this Cuban detour is further evidence of Blondie’s ability to push boundaries while retaining a punk pulse.
John Mayer continues to look to bygone days on his first solo album in four years. The American singer and guitarist has rebooted his career with Dead & Company, a spin-off group formed six years ago with three members of hippie-era jamming band the Grateful Dead. He starts a U.S. tour with them next month.
New solo effort Sob Rock glances knowingly to another style of yesteryear, the adult-orientated rock of the 1980s.
A radio-friendly folk-rocker when he made his debut album Room For Squares 20 years ago, Mayer, 43, then ‘closed up shop on acoustic sensitivity’ and became a Clapton-style bluesman. Sob Rock takes him back to his introspective roots. The album, produced by Mayer and Don Was, features cameos from Toto’s Lenny Castro and Greg Phillinganes. There are appearances by country singer Maren Morris and Pino Palladino, a bassist who’s played with Clapton and The Who.
It’s all exquisitely crafted, though you wish Mayer would show off his dazzling guitar skills more often.
As the wry title indicates, he’s lamenting lost love. Mayer has dated Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry in the past, but is now single and clearly reflective.
John Mayer continues to look to bygone days on his first solo album in four years
Last Train Home is a plea for an all-or-nothing affair, and he admits to leaving ‘messages in every little song’ to one of his famous exes (he doesn’t say which) on the bluesy Shouldn’t Matter But It Does.
He adds contemporary touches to the retro styles. New Light is a silky soul number co-written with hip-hop producer Ernest Wilson, and there are pristine solos on country song Wild Blue.
He finally lets loose on the closing big ballad All I Want Is To Be With You. More of that power next time, please.
Massachusetts singer Claire Cottrill — aka Clairo — is the latest Generation Z bedroom pop sensation looking for a British breakthrough
Massachusetts singer Claire Cottrill — aka Clairo — is the latest Generation Z bedroom pop sensation looking for a British breakthrough. Now 22, she began posting music online in her early teens and her lo-fi single Pretty Girl, its video made on a laptop, has more than 75 million YouTube views. New album Sling adds polish without losing any of her homespun intimacy.
Bleachers singer Jack Antonoff produces, using strings and Moog synths to supply the same warm, fuzzy glow he brought to St Vincent’s Daddy’s Home. Lorde sings backing on two tracks, but it’s Clairo’s sharp words that catch the ear, as she tackles social anxiety (Amoeba) and sexism in the music industry (Blouse) with a winning lightness of touch.
All albums out today. Blondie start a UK tour on November 6 at the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool (blondie.net).