The Motors: Tenement Steps DLX RM

Captain Oi! | UK | CD | 2006 | AHOY CD 278

Captain Oi! | UK | CD | 2006 | AHOY CD 278

The Motors: Tenement Steps UK CD DLX RM [2006]

  1. Love And Loneliness
  2. Metropolis
  3. Modern Man
  4. That’s What John Said
  5. Tenement Steps
  6. Slum People
  7. Here Comes The Hustler
  8. Nightmare Zero
  9. Time For Make Up
  10. Crazy Alice
  11. Love Round The Corner
  12. That’s What John Said (7″ Version)
  13. Love And Loneliness (7″ Version)
  14. Tenement Steps (7″ Version)
  15. Dancing The Night Away (Re-Mix)
  16. Emergency (Re-Mix)
  17. Sensation (Re-Mix)

I remember the first time I heard The Motors. It was in early 1980 and I had not quite shut off the radio. I can’t remember which of the two FM Rock stations I heard “Love + Loneliness” on but it made quite an impact. I called the station that played it [lost to memory now] on request night to hear it again, but instead, I got a parade of The Outlaws and Molly Hatchet. Thinking back now, I’m sure some DJ sold off the promo immediately after the station manager rapped his knuckles for playing something halfway decent! But the song remained in my cranium and when I saw the already cut out album in record time when Virgin Records had given up the ghost on their short-lived Virgin/Atlantic imprint, I bought it for a pittance.

“Love + Loneliness” began the album and it still sounded like Blondie as produced by Phil Spector, albeit with the gruff vocals of Nick Garvey, who ended up sounding not too far from the mark of [ulp] Billy Joel in his “rocker” mode! I always associate the song’s killer riff with “Dreaming” but in fact, it’s more redolent of the even more sublime “Union City Blue.” Impossibly grandiose stacked keyboards and drums that sound as if they had been recorded in Gold Star Studios. What gave the track its brain hammer oomph were the interplay between the reedy keyboards and the meaty guitar riff that gave the track its foundation. I can imagine Trevor Horn listening to this track for hours on end back in the day. Deconstructing it in his head like the shot across his bow that it was.

The album was largely produced by Jimmy Iovine and therein lay its greatness and its tragedy. Iovine had heard the demos that The Motors were making and wanted to get involved. Iovine’s taste is allover the map. I can enjoy some of his productions, but others I can’t stand. That ultimately comes down to the sort of overkill that I can find palatable. Or not. On this album, my ears were served plenty of both kinds. I can see why Jimmy Iovine was attracted to the material… The Phil Spector Goes Broadway vibe is not conceptually that far from Springsteen, where Iovine earned his wings. And when I say Broadway, I really mean it!

Track two is “Metropolis” and when those backing chorus vocals kick in it’s hard not to think that you are sitting in a theater on the Great White Way. If Springsteen’s “Born To Run” was Phil Spector fake rock imagined as a Broadway score, this manages to top that conceit by paring away the scant ties to rock legitimacy that Springsteen was unwilling to let go of. The sheer, numbing bombast of the track assures that it can’t get as much play as the relatively evergreen “Love + Loneliness.” It’s just too much to listen to for someone who is fairly repelled by Broadway scores such as I am. Maybe if they had moderated the chorus a little this song would have been a bigger success with me.

But any reticence I have over listening to “Metropolis” evaporates in the face of the repellent “Modern Man!” The modest 3:20 is takes out of my life seems like three times that length when it’s playing. The dire track features exceptionally poor music and lyrics that are attempting to satirize the new male sensitivity of the nascent 80s. Better is the 50s ballad pastiche of “That’s What John Says,” even though it overstays its welcome with what seems like endless minutes of a repetitive chorus outro.

If I felt that “Metropolis” was skirting the edge of my taste, than the full-on title cut conjures visions of low rent sub-Bob Fosse choreography as it bludgeoned my ears with kitchen sink melodrama inflated to grandiose proportions. As was the following “Slum People.” Side two was redeemed by the inclusion of “Here Comes The Hustler,” an earlier Motors B-side from 1978’s “Today” single. The lack of stacked, bombastic synths and string sections, or massed choruses lends the track a subdued drama that reveals its origins as a John Barry pastiche. In this case, aping film soundtracks was far more subtle than the Broadway option.

Finally, “Nightmare Zero” was yet another Cold War/nuclear anxiety number that ended the original album on a paranoid, unsatisfying note. The bluster was of course, still present, but the lack of choral backing lend this track a dignity missing from much of the rest of the music here. The original album ended after the scant eight tracks, all of which add up to well under 35 minutes. The CD remaster adds a full nine extra cuts tot he program, and it’s here where the CD gains considerable cache compared to the original LP.

With as many reservations that I have to much of the album material, the B-sides were a revelation. “Crazy Alice” was a great B-Side!! As were “Love Round The Corner” and “Time For Make Up.” All of these numbers sound more like the band who cut songs like “Airport” and “Dancing The Night Away” instead of leftovers from the Broadway songbook. What were they thinking by dropping this material for the likes of “Modern Man?” If they lost that track, “Tenement Steps” and “Slum People” and swapped int he B-sides, it would have given this album it’s full potential after all of these years. My theory: Iovine picked material that leaned towards Broadway to give the album a stylistic cohesion (an understandable producer’s conceit) and to sate his personal fetish for such sounds (not so admirable).

Then the bonus tracks venture into 7” edit territory, to reasonable success. The single mix (3:28) of “That’s What John Said” goes down much better. Less can be more. The single mix of “Love + Loneliness” is identical to the LP cut; losing 30 seconds of overkill on the fade. I can’t say the restraint strengthened that particular track of the gods. In fact, the long sought-after 10” single of this track was disappointing to me when I learned that it didn’t contain a 6:30 extended version of the track I just can’t get enough of. Losing a minute didn’t hurt the title cut, though. The shrill repetition of the chorus was deadly!

The last three bonus tracks were from a remixed 12” single that reactivate their early single “Dancing The Night Away” along with two album cuts from “Motors I” and “Approved By The Motors.” The extended 6:28 remix of “Dancing The Night Away” was tremendous! Possibly the first post-modern remix from 1981? Virgin reissued the single to plug the band’s posthumous “Greatest Hit” album. It’s title an ironic reference to “Airport,” their only brush with chart success. This 6:28 version was used on the comp LP at full length. The reissued 7″ and 12″ versions were shorter edits. Two more bonus tracks figure here on “Tenement Steps,” they are two more remixes of older tracks (“Emergency” + “Sensation”) which also figured on the “Greatest Hit” comp. Their inclusion here was thorough.

Captain Oi! did a great job with this package. Good mastering, too. No brick walling, which with music of this stripe, could have been deadly! The only way it could have been bettered is if they had included the original album credits in the booklet. Substantial liner notes + lyrics and color single sleeves from around the world are all highly approved of, but you’d never know who produced and played on it! Bad form.

Looking back, it seems like I can barely tolerate this album. For years, I had actually planned to take the four cuts I liked best from it, and burn them to a 3” CD-R to make “Tenement Steps” the killer EP that perhaps it should have been, but the truth is that I slacked off when this CD was issued in 2006. It quickly went out of print and became a bit costly, so when I saw it in the racks of Time Traveler, I happily snatched it up, trying hard not to look too desperate to see it. The fact is that it contains “Love + Loneliness” mastered from the master tapes and pressed to CD. That song is so tremendous and successful in what the band were aiming for here, that I can overlook its other excesses. That this contains shorter edits of two songs that benefit from the cutting is another plus in its favor. Now I need to get the first two Motors albums. Something tells me they will be more to my overall liking even if they don’t reach the lofty heights of “Love And Loneliness.”

– 30 –

 

About postpunkmonk

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6 Responses to The Motors: Tenement Steps DLX RM

  1. Echorich says:

    An amazing album, one I keep in a sealed heavy vinyl sleeve as it is really core to my collection. I first came upon The Motors with the release of Airport. Airport is one of those synth led songs that bridges the Progressive and New Wave scenes having come out in 78. Riffing on your Trevor Horn allusion, here we have a track that is blueprint Buggles or Godley and Creme. But it’s more vital than that and has a plucky almost punk spirit. The fact that they came out of the late 70’s pub rock scene along with The Stranglers, Brinsley Schwartz and Graham Parker shows what a fertile ground that was for new music.
    It’s interesting to me that if you play The Motors on Pandora or even Youtube, you get options for The Buggles and Blondie which come up. There is certainly a line there.
    Love and Loneliness has an Epic feel to it… the synths still have that circular Progressive Rock signature, but Nick Garvey spews vitriol in his attack on the lyrics. Billy Joel would jump into a hold ducking for cover if he had to compete one on one with Garvey’s delivery.
    Tenement Steps is a track I’ve always wanted to hear Marc Almond cover as he could take it that next step forward into Brecht/Weill territory which I’m sure is what the band was aiming for anyway. The track also has some of the same Prog bones that Kate Bush was flirting with at the same time. This really could have been the open song from RENT in another life. That’s not paying any disrespect to the song on my part, it’s what makes the song that much more dramatic.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – It’s fascinating to find that you are in the “Tenement Steps” fan club like chasinvictoria and myself. For me it’s like that little girl with the curl. When it’s good, it’s very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. But the fact remains that it has been in the Record Cell for 34 years and seeing that CD was like winning the music lottery.

      Good thoughts in regard to Marc Almond salvaging the title cut. That could work like crazy. I’m not usually one of those revisionist historians [like Tim] but having a crack in 2014 at the 96 track master tapes [a joke] to remix some of these cuts to throttle back the bludgeoning choruses, which are my primary beef with this record [apart from the tragic “Modern Man”] could bear significant fruit.

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  2. You’ve summed up my feelings about this album perfectly, O Monk! I’m much fonder of the title track than you are, having a bit more of the business they call show in me, but yeah songs like “Metropolis” just make me think of Robin Williams as Bob Fosse! I do revel in how overblown it all is, but the songs you pointed out as being dreadful are exactly that!

    Even so, I have a soft spot for this record because it contains that song, the song of such resplendent sonic overload that it actually achieves Nirvana (and I ain’t talkin’ no 90s grunge rockers!). It is one of a select group of songs that never fails to thrill whenever it is played. I have often joked that Iovine must have chained two 24-track studios together a la Hercules to make this sonic bombast! “Love and Loneliness” is that slice of incredibly rich cake you can’t have all the time, but when you do it is sooooooo good!!

    I’m really looking forward to grabbing a copy of this remastered dlx version!

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