September 22, 1980 12:00 PM

The Motels

Though it seems like cheating for a punk to sport a suntan, narcissistic Los Angeles is a logical breeding ground for the New Wave’s reactionary spirit. X—along with other L.A. primogenitors like the Germs, the Wierdos and the Screamers—launched the right-wing punk scene in 1977. Rehearsing in a seedy basement under a porno theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the bands eventually drew enough admirers to give the place a name, the Masque, and an “in” reputation without sacrificing the seediness. Later the punks hit Chinatown (Graham Parker sings about it on The Up Escalator). X was spotted by former Doors organist Ray Manzarek, who has produced this debut LP and sits in on three cuts. Like New York’s Ramones—who are also fond of machine-gunning listeners with three or four tried-and-true chords—X is more convincing in person. Their prime asset, guitarist Billy Zoom, once played with rock’n’roll pioneer Gene Vincent; he dashes off rockabilly breaks that are made more effective by their humorous incongruity. On The Unheard Music, Manzarek’s organ creates a pleasing Doors déjà vu sound, but singer Exene’s nihilistic lyrics don’t exactly light anybody’s fire. Far more interesting is the Motels’ lead vocalist, Martha Davis. A Berkeleyite, she emigrated to L.A. in 1974, and in January 1979 finally clicked with the Motels, who filter 1960s Motown through a New Wave lens. Davis writes most of her own songs and plays rhythm guitar, and her band can cook. But she is a chameleon, sounding Jamaican on Envy, mock-stern and spacey on the title cut and bright and slinky, like Supremes-vintage Diana Ross, on People, Places and Things. Careful, with its buoyant tone, numerous hooks and polished execution, suggests the Motels’ California roots, while X’s driving sound has nothing to do with freeways. It could have emerged from any New York loft.

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