Review Summary: Experimental and varied it may be, but Autoamerican seems for the most part, stuck on auto-pilot.
Blondie's fifth album, Autoamerican
, marked a major change in musical direction. It may not have continued the ongoing success of the band's first four albums, but it was still fairly decent by anybody's standards. After Eat to the beat
, Blondie could have gone several ways, but not in the way that any die-hard fan of the band or indeed anyone who listened to the major radio stations would have thought. Instead of producing bouncy, fun-packed anthems such as “In the sun” or poppy feel-good tunes such as the mesmerizing “Heart of glass”, Blondie opted for several different styles as opposed to sticking to a well-rehearsed formula which time and again pleased many. Autoamerican
is thus an album which utilizes as many different genres of music as a standard Blondie release can take, but thankfully this isn't quite as alienating as one would think based on a first listen.
Musical variety on this album is obvious from the very start, and in fact this already marks Autoamerican
as the album that will always be recognized as Blondie's “wild card”. In the first half of the album alone we have orchestral compositions (“Europa”), simplistic blues and jazz numbers (“Here's looking at you”) and even reggae (“The tide is high”), not to mention the excessive use of instruments such as string and horn arrangements (“Go through it”) and the lyricon (“Do the dark”), both of which hadn't been used by any member of the band beforehand. Even luscious vocalist Deborah Harry seems to have changed: Her voice, though most of the time rather bland compared to the vocal talents everyone knew she was perfectly capable of, definitely fits each tried-and-tested genre transfusion whilst staying relatively low-pitched.
However, there's a nagging problem throughout the album, and it's not a small one either. In fact, the magnitude of this problem has put some off listening to the full album ever again, and it's really one that shouldn't be overlooked. Whilst the experimentation on Autoamerican
is notable and sometimes successful in its own particular way, the magic has been completely lost. This magic we're talking about is what made albums such as Parallel Lines
or indeed Blondie
the classics that they undoubtedly were. Sure, there are songs that hint at the band returning to their original sound: Both “Rapture” and its predecessor “T-birds” are heavier, more accessible with strong, fluent rhythms which very rarely let up on musical proficiency, and “The tide is high” is at times almost like the earliest stages of the Ska-Punk sub-genre, before it became more popular as the decades progressed. But these are merely three decent songs out of a possible twelve which, for the most part, feel somewhat incomplete with growing listens. It might be the fact that Deborah Harry comes across as a bored, half-hearted frontwoman whose only time to shine is where the music fully slows down in favour of another one-dimensional sound, or could even be the way in which every song sounds completely different to the one that precedes it, eventually forcing the listener to scratch their head in confusion and asking themselves why this album was made in the first place.
One thing's for sure, Autoamerican
doesn't sound or even feel like the sort of album Blondie ever wanted to make, and it's actually unbelievable that this album was released a mere year after the upbeat vibes of Eat to the beat
. Gone is the rather enjoyable tunes of the mid to late 70s, and in their place are, for the most part, experimental, varied albeit half-baked tracks which could have been written with at least a sense of ambition or indeed musical magic. You know, something in the lines of Blondie's first four albums. This isn't to say that Autoamerican
should in any way be compared to those albums, but it's hard not to when, as a casual fan, you would have expected so much more. Autoamerican
thus proves a little disappointing, even a missed opportunity, but at least it overshadows Blondie's complete, uninspired downfall soon after. Frankly, above average at best.