Andy Stochansky’s Five Star Motel
Five Star Motel
It’s highly suspicious that the Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Stochansky has been so heavily promoted by international corporate record stores lately, given that his first two albums were so individual and uncompromising and that he drummed with indie queen Ani Difranco for so many years. While You Slept (1995) was a musically idiosyncratic, although not a classic, indie debut, while Radio Fusebox (1999) showed a multi-talented musician firmly in control of his abilities as percussionist, pianist, and songwriter. Radio Fusebox, with its symphonic and oftentimes ethereal songs, is a quietly unpretentious yet immediately distinctive, atmospheric, and listenable album.
In contrast, Five Star Motel (released in late August), Stochansky’s first major label release, is so pop-friendly it will mostly likely cause some hair-tearing and chest-beating among old fans. However, despite the heavy promotion and the radio-friendly production, Five Star is still, at heart, Stochanskian in its music and lyrics. True, Stochansky (with new-time collaborator Ian LeFeuvre) has never written songs with such a mainstream bent, but listeners who will decry the songs for being immediately catchy and tuneful should be reassured that the majority of the songs still hold up upon repeated listenings.
Easily half of the album is destined for being put on infinite repeat. Stochansky plays guitar, which he learned for the record, giving the songs a much more rock sound. He also roughens his voice, a tenor similar to Thom Yorke’s, to great effect for tracks like the like-Smashmouth-but-much-less-cheesy “Wonderful” and the poppy “Miss USA” (the latter a song about a father and his lesbian daughter).
In the album’s catchy first track, “Stutter,” Stochansky takes what would be a melodramatically self-masochistic metaphor (“I will do magic ... I’ll saw myself in half”) and twists the line’s initial dreaded expectation into a surprisingly sweet conclusion (“There’ll be two of us/ Always ready to please”). Stochansky’s minimalistic but skillful way with words ocassionally falters, particularly on the slower songs. Although these ballads generally hark back to the sound of his second album, only a few of them (such as “Everest,” “Here Nor There,” and “Hymn”) come anywhere near being as memorable as the ones on Fusebox, many of them hampered by uninspired lyrics. “22 Steps” features the uncharacteristically weak chorus: “Takes 22 steps/ From the walk to your door/ Takes 22 steps/ Cause I’ve tried it before;” and “One Day,” although it presents what is no doubt a sincere sentiment, slips into Hallmark banality with lines such as: “One day the world stood still/ And we all sang one song.” The dangerous line between straightforward honesty and oversentimentality that Stochansky adroitly navigated on Fusebox is troublesome at times here, but when he achieves the right balance and combines it with his newly found pop sensibility, Five Star Motel succeeds in being engaging both musically and lyrically.
Andy Stochansky will be performing at the Virgin Records on Newbury St. today (Sept. 24, 2002) at 6 p.m.