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July 10, 2020 12:32PM
1980 marks the fortieth anniversary of Blondie’s Autoamerican, which produced two massive hit singles, “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture.” At the time of its release in November of that year, the album seemed to discombobulate and/or agitate critics. The great Mr. Robbins, who was more merciful than many reviewers, wrote that the album “displays the band’s basic flaw: lack of direction and a musical confusion that is almost unbelievable,” but he also declared that “Autoamerican is the most interesting and (dare I say it?) cohesive album Blondie has made.” Tom Carson, who had several months earlier torpedoed Urban Verbs’ career with a blistering attack in Rolling Stone on their debut album, awarded Autoamerican a measly one star, accusing Chris Stein of being “so exclusively concerned with creating a modernist manifesto that he’s dispensed with all the pop paraphernalia—e.g., hooks, rhythm, structure—that keeps an audience listening.” Creem’s reviewer, whose name I’ve forgotten, wrote—if I remember correctly—that the album was “indisputably the biggest bomb by a major act since Christianity.” Well, damn.

I like this album, a lot. Lord knows it’s all over the place, which makes it not terribly dissimilar to the Clash’s sprawling, insanely ambitious Sandinista!, released a month later. Carson complained of the Hollywood-recorded disc that “a movie…is what [it] transparently aspires to be,” and certainly the album has a cinematic, indeed anamorphic, ambience. Carson interpreted Autoamerican as “treat[ing] pop culture, or teenage subculture, in science-fiction terms as a kind of lost Atlantis.” (Honestly, you’d think he was describing the greatest album that John Foxx never recorded.) I rather doubt that’s what Stein and crew had in mind when they entered the studio, but I confess I’ve listened to Autoamerican many times through the decades with Carson’s Atlantis theme in mind. From the opening soundtrack cut to the Camelot conclusion, I feel as if I’m inhabiting a mysterious, future-primitive audio-movie musical every time I spin the disc. “Here’s Looking at You,” “Angels on the Balcony,” and “Faces” are particular favorites that distort the timeline(s). I might have omitted “Go Through It” in favor of the superb B-side “Suzy and Jeffrey,” but there’s really not a track on the album I dislike. It’s not Blondie’s best album, but it’s definitely, as Mr. Robbins observed, the band’s most interesting—a flawed-but-fascinating work that’s something on the order of such other flawed gems as Orson Welles’ F for Fake or Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. As modernist manifestos go, it’s an impressive one. Listening to it on my way to the office as the crises grow daily, I feel as if I’m driving through the streets of the lost Atlantis that America may one day become.

Does anyone else enjoy this album as much as I do?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/10/2020 12:39PM by Middle C.
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Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 01:28PM
Blondie and Devo were the artists that initiated my move from rock to new wave. And it was Autoamerican (along with Are We Not Men) that did it. In 1980 I was living in Korea and having received a Walkman for Christmas, I was eager to get some music to play in it. Tapes at the PX were around $8 so I ventured off base where the bootleg music shops were - a section of Seoul known as 'Hooker Hill'; I was only 12 and it was during the day so I knew I should be ok. For $2 each, I purchased Autoamerican, Parallel Lines, Kool and the Gang and (gulp) Hotel California*. When I heard the intrumental beginning of "Europa" followed by Debbie Harry's spoken word (sci fi gibberish that I thought was so cool) lead to "Live it Up" I was hooked. The rest of the album was also eye-opening. I was shocked that a pop album would have songs ("Here's Looking at You" and "Faces") that my parents would like. As for the hits I never really cared for "The Tide is High" but I really dug "Rapture" - a rap song that had a great guitar solo (I'd only heard the radio edit before which omits most of the solo)! I could't believe it. At the time my only exposure to rap had been "Rapper's Delight". I listened to that tape over and over and it finally wore out. In the early `90s when I started buying CDs, that was one album that I had to get (it helped that it was bonus priced at $9.99). I hadn't listened to the album since the early `80s so I was pleasantly surprised when it still had it. I haven't listened to it too much since then but that's because mainly I have so much else to choose from but thanks for letting me relive those memories.

*I bought this because at the time I loved "Life in the Fast Lane" and since the title track was pretty good, my thinking was that there has to be some other good songs on this album. Wrong! The title track - ok, "New Kid in Town" - I'd heard it before so I could tolerate it, "Fast Lane" - great and then -- ecch. I was so disappointed. I'm pretty sure I never played that tape again and that was the end of my infatuation with the Eagles.
Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 02:38PM
Heff Wrote:
> *I bought this because at the time I loved "Life
> in the Fast Lane"

When I heard that on the radio, I thought they were singing "Lights In The Bathroom!"

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®
Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 02:54PM
I thought "Eat To The Beat" was a perfect Blondie album. I still do, when not enthralled by the even more exciting debut I vacillate to. I was blindsided by "Autoamerican." It was insanely eclectic. And it was the template for Blondie going forward, from what I've heard of the later albums [half?]. Only "T-Birds" had the juice I was craving from them at the time. I didn't mind "The Tide Is High" but I wasn't crazy for it. I though that Rap was a big flash-in-the-pan and not musically interesting, so I ignored it for years. "Rapture" didn't get too much of a nod. I thought that Blondie had lost it, but what can you say about an album with two singles [all of them] that went to number one? When Chrysalis issued Blondie on CD, I immediately bought "Eat To The Beat" and "Autoamerican" at the same time since I was interested in hearing how the latter played eight years later. It was still damned eclectic. I've come to peace with the album over the many years. Sort of like with Bowie's "Young Americans" where for years it was just 2 songs but now I like about half of the album. "Flawed, but interesting?" Definitely. But it has some sort of a protective membrane holding it together that later, equally eclectic Blondie albums simply don't. It may be down to the fact that Blondie were [barely] still a band at the time they made it. Drugs and messy politics saw to the end of that and the band never really recovered. Though Debbie's "Def, Dumb + Blonde" solo album was just as eclectic, but way better.
Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 03:13PM
Eat to the Beat is fantastic. I love Young Americans, but I wish that Bowie would've substituted "Who Can I Be Now?" for his overwrought cover of "Across the Universe." (Thank goodness for Rykodisc.) The Dame's take on the Beatles tune flops just as much as his version of "Wild Is the Wind" succeeds on Station to Station.
Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 05:14PM
Middle C Wrote:
> Eat to the Beat is fantastic. I love
> Young Americans, but I wish that Bowie
> would've substituted "Who Can I Be Now?" for his
> overwrought cover of "Across the Universe."
> (Thank goodness for Rykodisc.) The Dame's take on
> the Beatles tune flops just as much as his version
> of "Wild Is the Wind" succeeds on Station to
> Station

Not only "Who Can I Be Now" but also "It's Gonna Be Me" smoke much of the album, never mind the abomination of "Across The Universe." So glad for those Rykos! You don't go into the studio after plowing through a kilo of blow even with John Lennon in tow.
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Re: Autoamerican
July 10, 2020 02:13PM
At the time, I dismissed Autoamerican off-hand just because I hated "The Tide Is High" when it played on the radio and it was too far from Eat to the Beat for my taste. But I ended up with a copy of the vinyl when one of my sisters dumped her vinyl collection, just to be a Blondie completist, and I liked it a lot more than I expected, even though it's weird and flawed. And I've come to appreciate that "The Tide Is High" is actually pretty decent. Not a record I reach out to play too often, but it's definitely earned my respect and I agree that "Europa" is a great opener.
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Re: Autoamerican
July 16, 2020 11:22AM
I loved/love Eat to the beat, but I always enjoyed AutoAmerican too. Like someone states above, there is a lot of styles of music on there a la Sandinista. In my then teenage head, I had imagined it as a similar concept to Bowies Diamond Dogs record.
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