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* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : DAVIS CHECKS OUT OF MOTELS WITH 'POLICY'

October 18, 1987|CONNIE JOHNSON

* * 1/2 MARTHA DAVIS. "Policy." Capitol. A charismatic figure with a wonderful voice, Martha Davis was largely responsible for making the Motels one of Los Angeles' top rock bands a few years back. With a flair for writing evocative, soul-baring songs--and not bashful about singing them with actress-like drama--Davis was the focal point of that group.

On her own, she's not quite as distinctive. Her debut solo album is never less than engaging, but lightweight exercises like "Lust," and even the slightly sinister "Rebecca," don't pack the atmospheric punch of past Motels hits like "Only the Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer."

The cut that comes closest to the Davis of old is "Tell It to the Moon," a wistful Diane Warren composition about the frustration of being unable to communicate with the one you love. It's a tune that calls for the kind of "listen to me!" immediacy that's Davis' specialty.

Saxophonists Clarence Clemons and Kenny G spark two tracks, "Just Like You" and "Don't Ask Out Loud," respectively, and original Motels bassist Michael Goodroe puts in several appearances. Melodically, the album is sophisticated and commercial-sounding, particularly on the Caribbean-colored "Hardest Part of a Broken Heart" and the soaring, searing "What Money Might Buy," which features guitar work by Charlie Sexton. Still, the album's sophistication doesn't have the compelling impact of Davis' past efforts, despite the fact that her vocals are as warm and intense as ever.

Whereas Davis once seemed on the cutting edge of something big and different, she comes across here like a seasoned pro, a polished entertainer who just wants to sing a few good songs--not make you stop and examine life's subtle mysteries. While that may be good enough, it's still a few steps shy of what Davis is capable of.

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