Sunday, February 28, 2010

The "Autoamerican Effect"

Picture 1980. New decade, new musical movement, new everything. The close of the '70's on a violent, anti-disco note and the return of "rock 'n' roll" as the dominant force in music had Blondie, a very New York outfit, in the middle. Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitars), Clem Burke (drums), Jimmy Destri (keyboards/guitars), Frank Infante (guitars), and Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) themselves had achieved momentum in England and were revered as cult heroes at home. Not until their third album Parallel Lines (1978/Chrysalis) did they succeed in commercial crossover in the States. Their evolution continued to race forward and arrived on 1980's Autoamerican (Chrysalis). Punkers from the start, their rock spirit was intact, but now Blondie handled reggae romance ("The Tide is High") and hip-pop ("Rapture") among the ranging flavors of Autoamerican.

Basically, one of the biggest rock groups of the time made the cardinal sin of orbiting other sounds outside their birth genre. Autoamerican showed that groups like Blondie could take chances. Spreading their wings to embrace new musical frontiers put them in conflict with their limited fans. Blondie, without even realizing it, set a unique standard for rock acts to expand themselves. Two of Blondie's biggest followers, No Doubt and Garbage, had similar trajectories and records that patterned themselves after the curious Autoamerican. These formidable groups are fronted, like Blondie, by larger than life female singers Gwen Stefani and Shirley Manson. Their albums exemplify that the "Autoamerican Effect" can thrill fans who are willing to take a risk and earn the reward.

beautifulgarbage (2001, Interscope)
The Players: Shirley Manson (vocals/guitar), Butch Vig (drums/loops), Duke Erikson (guitar/keyboards), Steve Markes (bass/guitar)

Ambition describes this long player. Garbage sought to tie in all their influences here on beautifulgarbage. A softer, detailed sound is heard with Manson's voice mixed to the fore of the songs. Manson boasted new found confidence that stretched the genre gamut. The gentlemen of Garbage constructed different sets for Manson use: bright new wave pop ("Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) ), sprawling ballads ("Cup of Coffee"), and classic thrashers ("Silence is Golden").

"Androgyny," lead single from beautifulgarbage
Directed By: Donald Cameron

Rock Steady (2001, Interscope)
The Players: Gwen Stefani (vocals), Adrian Young (drums), Tony Kanal (bass), Tom Dumont (guitar)

Stefani had already done two solo side works with Moby and Eve between Return of Saturn (2000) and the sessions for Rock Steady. Traveling the world, No Doubt labored alongside varied songwriters and producers for the album. Dave Stewart (one half of the Eurythmics), Sly & Robbie (Grace Jones), Nellee Hooper (Madonna, U2), and Prince assisted on the Rock Steady, but the record was still very much No Doubt's. Moving forward into the island rhythms ska is tied to, the title track seduced and grooved in a chill-like way heretofore No Doubt hadn't explored. "Hey Baby" wore its klaxon bite fiercely, whereas "Start the Fire" boomed off the speakers. Expansive and cohesive, Rock Steady lived up to its namesake.

"Hey Baby" lead single from Rock Steady
Directed By: Dave Meyers

[Editor's Note: Autoamerican, beautifulgarbage, and Rock Steady are all in print.-QH]


Anonymous said...

as released on Interscope. *Gentlemen* of Garbage...

Anonymous said...

beautifulgarbage was released on Interscope, not Geffen

QH said...

My bad. I got my labels switched. Massive apologies.-QH

Shaun said...

I liked this article quite a bit. Garbage in my opinion is a great band! No Doubt is too but Blondie takes the cake :)