The Motels are back. Those that were fortunate enough to discover the band between the years of 1979-1985 will be thrilled to learn that Atomic Café: Greatest Songs live [Fuel 2000] has just been released. The recording is well worth checking out and captures some great early performances taken from the groups first two releases, the self-titled 1979 debut and 1980’s Careful [Capital].
The Motels were one of the truly great new wave bands to come out of the Los Angeles area in the early ‘80’s. Fronted by Martha Davis, who held court as the main song writer, lead singer and rhythm guitar player, the group achieved a great deal of success, most notably for hits such as “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer” which both made it to number nine on the Top Forty charts in the U.S. Surprisingly, those hits aren’t even on the new recording and many might not be familiar with the band’s early material. These are the Motels songs pre-MTV, and before their performance on Saturday Night Live, with all the band’s original members.
The Motels' Martha Davis, today.
In a recent interview with Night Times, Davis acknowledged that the first two records sold far better over seas than in the United States.
“Australia was actually the first market that really accepted us,” she said. In fact, one of the highlights on Atomic Café is “Total Control” which hit big in Australia. But that’s only a taste of what to expect. The live takes on songs like, “Bonjour Baby,” and “Closets and Bullets” are superior to the studio versions. Davis sings through the tracks with her unique, low vocal style that is as addictive today as it was 30 years ago. The songs’ melodies and strong guitar work make the music just as relevant today as ever. With acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Sounds taking off, it’s great to note the comeback of a major band to influence this style of music.
As is the case with a lot of live recordings, there is a raw feel to the sound that you simply can’t get off any of the studio versions. This can especially be heard on the short, but strong track, “Kix,” which is so lively it’s hard not to wish you were there. That track alone is well worth the money for the disc.
Studio recordings, believe it or not, have not always been an easy sell for this band. The Motel’s big 1982 breakthrough release, All Four One, a project that was ultimately led by guitarist Tim McGovern was originally rejected by Capital Records. According to Davis, “They said: ‘we can put this out if you want us to, but we won’t promote it.’ They also said there were no hits on the record.”
Who's laughing now?
That album was, in fact, re-recorded and produced by Val Garay, who gave it a sound Davis describes as being “more polished and poppy.” “Only the Lonely” was the big hit off this album. Many fans will find Atomic Café a treat, simply because it showcases a great band before their commercial success and without the big production of the studio.
For anyone who does get a hold of this CD and wishes to see the band in concert, Martha Davis will be hitting the road in January 2010 with a lineup of musicians she assembled a few years back. Judging by the sounds of Atomic Café it should be well worth stopping by a club to hear them play.
See Martha Davis' Myspace or her Facebook page for details.