Andy Stochansky, despite his strengths, falls squarely into the dreaded "...but he sucks live" category. His recent stint at the Iota Café in Clarendon can only be described as anesthetizing. But Five Star Motel (BMG) sees a musician with talent to spare, hooks to burn and a penchant for cooing about love and smooches and romance without making you want to induce vomiting.
Yes, he occasionally goes over the top ("She sang to me tonight/my lover's voice/ten rivers wide"), and we probably could have done without "One Day," the kumbaya love-in that's got to be -- got to be -- an attempt at irony: "One day the world stood still/And we all sang one song." Not this song, babe. The world sings your song if you've got good PR. Stochansky sounds like he's wishing upon a rock star.
But aside from a dab too much sap and a brief chunk of blah two-thirds into the album, Five Star Motel is highly listenable indie pop without any airs to suggest Stochansky thinks he's indier-than-thou. "Wonderful (It's Superman)" hovers somewhere between Ben Folds' jade and the Goo Goo Dolls' cheese. It's by far the most radio-ready track on the album, as well as one of the best -- a rare combination. And it's followed by "22 Steps," if not the most lyrically adept, at least one of the most heartfelt love songs to come along in a while. Stochansky's voice fills with yearning and bliss, and surprisingly, you actually buy it.
In the end, Five Star is just one big kernel of corn, but corn played with such adroitness that even the most emotionally disenfranchised should fall for it. As Ani DiFranco's drummer during the Living in Clip years, you knew that Stochansky was a talented backup musician. What you didn't realize was how competently he could sustain a whole album -- and indeed, a whole guitar -- on his own.
Not Funny Ha Ha
Jimmy Fallon isn't funny. He is, however, pretty good on guitar, which is the only thing that saves The Bathroom Wall (Dreamworks) from being an utter wash.
Five parts music, nine parts standup, for a total of fourteen parts that work to varying degrees, but none of which actually hit the mark they aim for in the end.
There's no doubt that Fallon has a love of music, but that love almost works against him here. He's unwilling to fuck with the songs he apes with true Yankovichian irreverence. Instead, he takes the Ramones, the Beastie Boys, Ween and others and makes them mildly amusing, but the songs are actually too good to be really funny in a parodying way.
The first five tracks are almost worth it just for the quality of the music. In fact, "Road Rage" is better than a lot of the "real" songs you hear on FM every day. But Fallon should have let it rest there rather than continue with nine tracks of excruciating standup comedy, performed in front of a live college audience -- the easiest type of crowd to rile.
The only exception is the last track, "Hammertime," which is both original and completely hilarious. And his impressions of Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams are almost frighteningly dead-on. But unless you love his SNL Weekend Update skits -- which don't hold a candle to Dennis Miller's -- you can skip this album and dust off your Weird Al and Jerky Boys cassettes.