Formed by two ex-members of Ducks Deluxe (singers/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Andy McMaster and Nick Garvey) plus two younger pub vets (Bram Tchaikovsky and Ricky Slaughter), the Motors seemed like a hit machine from the outset. On record, they made grandiose rock-pop — wide-screen, brilliantly arranged and energetically performed — drawing on their longtime experience and solid talents.
Motors 1, produced by future metal maven Robert John Lange, is a fresh, exciting record, solidly rooted in electric guitars but light-years more subtle and three-dimensional than the rock’n’roll retreads the band’s members had been playing prior to the Motors. While the six-minute “Dancing the Night Away” is an engrossing and muscular lead-off track, nothing else that follows it on the album is quite as striking. Approved By is a better effort, containing the fruits of the Motors’ attack on the singles chart (“Airport” and “Forget About You” both went Top 20 in the UK) and exhibiting all of the band’s strengths: catchy melodies, inventive arrangements and exciting, energetic use of rock instrumentation.
The Motors effectively disbanded after the second album. Garvey and McMaster continued working together using the group name, eventually engaging Jimmy Iovine to produce their next album in New York. Tenement Steps, the unfortunate result of far too much time spent in the studio, is an appalling, overblown mess, reeking of self-indulgence and artistic confusion. The chorus of the best-known track, “Love and Loneliness,” sounds exactly like Steve Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” — and that’s as good as the record gets.
Greatest Hit has all of the above-mentioned songs as well as the rest of the Motors’ best work. Neophytes would do well to start (and end) here.
On his solo album, Garvey demonstrates the versatility of his voice (clear tenor, hoarse baritone, agile falsetto). But he’s even more adroit at the mixing console, able to whip up tuneful, ringing Spector/Springsteen pop melodrama and make lush, spacious pop-rock out of the riff from “Willie and the Hand Jive.” He also throws a curve or two, like the clever, 10cc-ish “(Think) Tough” or the semi-parodic Squeeze-cum-Bowie of “Skin.” But even the support by members of the Motors/Tyla/Bram Tchaikovsky axis and his own genuine likability can’t save this record when Garvey descends into schlocky, banal romanticism.