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Editorial Review

Album review: "Panic of Girls"

At Blondie's post-'80s gigs, fans have tended to respond most strongly to the New York band's early pop-punk material. But that style didn't yield the group's biggest hits and is barely represented on its latest release, "Panic of Girls." Instead, Debbie Harry and her five cohorts (three of them are recent recruits) explore synth-pop, reggae, salsa and French chanson.

The album, Blondie's third and best since its 1982-1997 layoff, opens with three upbeat numbers. "D-Day," "What I Heard" and "Mother" recall the group's original blend of punk and girl-group pop, yet their timbres are heavily electronic and their arrangements closer to ABBA than to the Ramones.

If Blondie can't recapture its '70s urgency, the band still has two significant assets: its singer and its songs. At 66, Harry has a remarkably strong, clear voice, and she and longtime writing partner Chris Stein have always been willing to record other people's tunes. "Panic of Girls" includes collaborations with new keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen and album co-producer Kato Khandwala, as well as covers of songs by Jamaican singer Sophie George and Beirut, a Balkan-flavored American alt-pop outfit. There may not be a comeback hit in the bunch, but neither are there any throwaways.

--Mark Jenkins, Sept, 16, 2011