What a strange little album this is.
After the New Wave-meets-girl group pop of 1978’s Parallel Lines sent Blondie into the stratosphere (following it with the harder-edged Eat to the Beat the following year), they were, for a time, among the world’s most successful bands along with ABBA and Fleetwood Mac.
With 1980’s Autoamerican, the New York six-piece threw the rulebook out of the window and crafted a loose concept album that is stylistically by far their most wildly diverse and unusual. It opens with a weird Berlin/Eno-era Bowie-esque instrumental, “Europa,” all clanging guitars and orchestral strings, before taking a tour through cod-Tin Pan Alley vocal jazz (“Here’s Looking At You”), reggae pop (the cover of The Paragons’ ska hit “The Tide is High”), more familiar New Wave pop (“Angels on the Balcony”), country (“Go Through It”), funk (“Do the Dark”), and blues pastiche (“Faces”). And of course, let’s not forget the legendary R&B/funk/pop/hip-hop/rap crossover anthem that was, and still is, the sublime “Rapture.”
You’d think such a diverse record could never hope to stand on its own two feet, but Autoamerican is actually pretty coherent and makes for an enjoyable, if odd, listen. Along with 1982’s maligned The Hunter, it’s definitely one of Blondie’s more under-appreciated records. Take Tom Caron’s one-star review in Rolling Stone from February 1981: “Blondie’s Autoamerican is a terrible album, but it’s bad in such an arcane, high-toned way that listening to it is perversely fascinating” was his opening gambit. I get where he’s coming from, but I would never say it was a terrible album by any means. Or else why would I put it as one of my Unsung Classics?
It’s definitely Blondie’s weirdest, and most indulgent, but also one of their most interesting.
Here’s the aforementioned “Rapture” for your delectation.