The Motels

The Motels

Capitol, 1979

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


The conversation begins.” With those words begins the career of Martha Davis and the Motels. Helping to usher in the energetic ’80s, their debut album is a carefully constructed set of ten songs that straddle the line between pop and new wave brilliantly. The four backing musicians flex their considerable muscle, providing the perfect foundation for Davis’ vocals to shine. A smart move was to use keyboards sparingly, giving Marty Jourard the option to play the Motels’ trademark saxophone on more tracks. On the first couple of songs, it’s all guitar, bass and drums, provided by Marty’s brother Jeff Jourard, Michael Goodroe and Brian Glascock, respectively. Of the two, the single “Kix” is makes the biggest impression. The producer, known only as Carter, wisely follows that upbeat tune with what is now a Motels staple, the solid-as-nails sax-drenched ballad “Total Control,” which Tina Turner herself memorably covered for the USA For Africa project six years later.

The middle portion of this eponymous first album is the weakest, but that’s all relative. Tracks like “Atomic Café” and the directionless “Celia” could be considered filler, but they’re far from glaring. They just don’t have the same initial impact that the other cuts do. Also, “Dressing Up” doesn’t work at all and should have been left off the album entirely. On the other hand, the Motels’ stab at reggae, “Porn Reggae,” takes an unexpected jazzy turn, making it something of a standout. You would never expect jazz and reggae to merge, but miraculously, the Motels make it happen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Let’s address Martha Davis’ vocal abilities for a second. She doesn’t have the greatest range in the world as a singer, but she more than makes up for it with her coy delivery and personality. When you hear her voice, you automatically know it’s her. That’s what the best pop vocals should be: distinctive. Yes, perhaps her vocal style could seem a little nasal or pinched to the uninitiated, but she could out-sing Britney Spears, Ke$ha or Iggy Azalea any day of the week.

Personally, I miss real singing voices like Martha’s or Ann Wilson’s of Heart. You don’t hear rock songs played on the radio anymore, you just don’t. Nowadays, it’s all wisecracking and in-your-face obnoxiousness. Plastic and canned dance fluff or rap made on a computer, set to a sledgehammer beat. Melody? What’s that? I may be stuck in a time-warp, but at least I know what real music is supposed to sound like.

The Motels never really became critics’ darlings or made a lasting mark on the Billboard charts during their initial tenure, but earned enough popularity that Davis – last year rejoined by Marty Jourard – has kept the Motels flame alive with touring and recording in recent years. To this day, the band is primarily known for their mid-tempo hit songs “Only The Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer,” and that’s kind of a shame. There’s so much more to this group then those overplayed tunes. All it takes is a little faith and curiosity. It doesn’t even matter which Motels album you pick up, all are reliably consistent listens that have the potential to surprise and pay dividends. That’s what the best Album Oriented Rock is supposed to do. I’ve always been dumbfounded that bands like theirs didn’t make more of a mark. Oh well, I don’t mind keeping this a best-kept secret to myself!

Rating: B

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.