Checking In at The Five Star Motels
5 Out of 5 Stars
It is one of those stories that became all too prevalent in the 80's; decent band is forced to compromise for mega-success. Martha Davis and The Motels suddenly found themselves on the brink of stardom, and their record company didn't like the album they had prepared. An ultimatum was issued - go back into the studio with a producer of Capitol's choosing and his session hacks for a redo or no deal. The band swallowed hard (and nearly disintegrated). Val Garay (who had worked on the original sessions) delivered the keyboard dominated new sessions and "All Four One" was the result.
The final album treads a very fine line between arena rock and the edgy, arty new-wave the first two Motels albums were focused on. Only "Art Fails" and "Apocalypso" (the original album titles) sound like they came from that period. But the polished up Motels also brought lead singer Martha Davis into an even sharper focus, making the torchy "Only The Lonely" into the band's signature hit. The other two radio draws here; "Mission of Mercy" and "Take The L," pulled down radio play and established not only the Motels, but the crossover sound of safe New Wave. As such, "All Four One" is a classic album from the early 80's, helping to usher in a new sound.
There were also a pair of surprises here. Martha turned jazzy for the haunting "Change Your Mind," a major departure for The Motels' albums. The second was the inclusion of an obscure but controversial Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that Phil Spector produced for The Crystals, "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." An ambiguously angry song about relationship abuse (or a cheeky ode to SM, take your pick), the original song was released as a single and subsequently blacklisted from radio. It makes its selection as a cover on "All Four One" all the odder, seeing as the band was fighting Capitol to record an album that would be commercially more viable than the "Apocalypso" sessions had yielded. As such, it was pretty much a backhand to the suits and helped The Motels maintain a semblance of edge.
Granted, the sudden success made the band all the more eager to stay safe (Little Robbers is almost a carbon copy of this and even cleaner). However, there are still plenty of reasons to like "All Four One." The remaster will drive audiophiles nuts as the compression really flattens and over compresses the percussion in particular, but I'm glad just to finally have this CD back in my library.