“Autoamerican” by Blondie - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1980Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

They always did have a penchant for stylistic adventures on their long-players, but the eclecticism of “Autoamerican” came as a surprise to most of the group, never mind the fans or the critics! The fifth Blondie arrived in November, 1980, the band remaining: Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar, tympani), Frank Infante (guitar, backing vocals), Nigel Harrison (bass, backing vocals), Jimmy Destri (keyboards, piano, backing vocals) and Clem Burke (drums, backing vocals). Together with trusty producer Mike Chapman they decamped to Hollywood to record and, as if introducing an actual film, the opening orchestral score, “Europa”, is dramatic and concludes with some spoken word from our favourite blonde: “Based on the desire for total mobility, And the serious physical pursuit of religious freedom, The auto drove mankind further than the wheel, And in remote areas even today is forbidden as a device too suspect for human conveyance, This articulate conception has only brought us all more of the same, Thoughtlessly locked into phase two gridlock, Keyed up on its rims and abandoned on the expressway” A dystopian nightmare! Right, who lent Chris Stein their Gary Numan collection?

Talking about nightmares, the epic introduction is immediately betrayed by the sense that Blondie have been completely over-run by the Hollywood session men from hell, the rather dreadful pop-disco affair “Live It Up” featuring the guitar of Wah Wah Watson in what, essentially, amounts to a crime scene as far as Blondie's cooler fans like me are concerned. They can get in the Pacific sea with that. Next up is “Here's Looking At You”, a proper wow moment in the Blondie story as they recreate the golden age of yer 1920s showtune. I don't love it - I rarely love this kind of thing - but it's authentic, and Debbie's cabaret crooner charm is undeniable; she's the thinking man's Betty Boop on this one. What the hell are we gonna get next? A reggae cover version, that's what! “The Tide Is High” (The Fabulous Paragons, 1967) is excellent, and gave them their third #1 single at home and their fifth #1 single in the UK. “I'm gonna be your number one” she coos. Listen again to that laughing scream outro - ha, we've been played! By the standards set so far, side one closes with a fair degree of new wave pop normality via “Angels On The Balcony” and the wonderfully brassy “Go Through It” during which I'm suddenly pleased with the Hollywood session men.

Jimmy Destri's “Do The Dark” immediately reintroduces the disco-flavour over on side two, and his wonky, squelchy keyboards at least give the piece some degree of character, even if it does fails to catch-a-fire with my affections. What is does, however, is set the tone nicely for the fantastic “Rapture”, the album's second single which would soon give them yet another #1 hit single at home, and a #5 hit in the UK. I don't care what anyone else says, I think Debbie's surreal rap is hilarious, executed knowingly and brilliantly. That she could deliver the first-ever rap #1 is a great testament to the super-powers of this kinda crazy group. Respect is due. Back on the jazzy intonations, the torch-ballad “Faces”, written by Debbie herself, is very good indeed. People line-up to take pot-shots at this 'un, holding her up to the Sarah Vaughn's or the Ella Fitzgerald's instead of enjoying our girl on her own charming terms. Listen to how she gets visceral with it, as the piano turns a little sinister. You wouldn't get that with the technical bores. It's a thumbs up from me. The tail-off from thereon is disappointing though; “T-Birds” is too poppish for its own good, “Walk Like Me” is b-side filler and “Follow Me” (first sung by Marjorie Smith in the stage production of Camelot in 1960) is too straight, and a naff way to finish the set. Whilst this may be a disjointed listen, it's rarely been dull and offers moments of brilliance. Kudos to them for taking chances.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:31] 6.9.png Blondie - Europa (Chris Stein) Film Score / Incidental
A2 [04:09] 4.2.png Blondie - Live It Up (Chris Stein) Disco / Funk
A3 [02:58] 5.7.png Blondie - Here’s Looking At You (Deborah Harry, Chris Stein) Crooner / Cabaret
A4 [04:39] 8.7.png Blondie - The Tide Is High (John Holt, Garth Evans, Howard Barrett) Reggae
A5 [03:47] 6.0.png Blondie - Angels On The Balcony (Jimmy Destri, Laura Davis) New Wave
A6 [02:40] 7.2.png Blondie - Go Through It (Deborah Harry, Chris Stein) Cerebral Pop
B1 [03:51] 5.8.png Blondie - Do The Dark (Jimmy Destri) Disco / Funk
B2 [06:30] 8.2.png Blondie - Rapture (Deborah Harry, Chris Stein) Disco / Funk
B3 [03:51] 7.2.png Blondie - Faces (Deborah Harry) Crooner / Cabaret
B4 [03:56] 5.3.png Blondie - T-Birds (Deborah Harry, Nigel Harrison) Pop
B5 [03:44] 5.1.png Blondie - Walk Like Me (Jimmy Destri) New Wave
B6 [03:01] 4.0.png Blondie - Follow Me (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe) Crooner / Cabaret

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