The title of Motel Creeps’ full-length debut, The Gifts of Happenstance, seems to suggest that the band has been beamed out of Oscar Wilde’s London with top hats and walking sticks. In fact, based on the picture on the cover, the members of Motel Creeps — Greg Welch (vocals), Jim Connolly (drums), John Vitelle (bass), and Eric Butler (guitars) – look like they’ve been beamed out of mid-1980s Dublin with, you know, black tank tops and PVC pants and whatever else U2 wore then (though I might be inadvertently skipping straight to Achtung Baby, which came out when I was a freshman in high school). It’s worth going into how a band appears because, like, if your choice of clothes every day is a conscious decision — and I would hope it is — then how a band appears in its promo shot is at least ten or fifteen times more conscious: this is how the members want to project themselves, or how they want to be seen by the world, i.e. us.
Motel Creeps don’t, for our U2-comparison’s purposes, disappoint: Eric Butler’s riffing on The Gifts of Happenstance is unmistakably and somewhat creepily like the Edge’s twenty years ago, and singer Greg Welch croons like Bono right down to the vibrato on his voice at the end of a line (on “The Florist,” for example, the word “frame” becomes “fraaaa-m-m-m-me”). To complete the picture: The drums and bass couldn’t quite pass for the work of Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton, but those guys are lifers, and the performances here are competent. There are stretches here where Motel Creeps rock more than U2 has in recent memory and, consequently, wind up sounding more like the Smoking Popes, a fine, criminally overlooked group. But I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s pure coincidence (or “happenstance,” as it were) – basically, what crooning over a punk-rock guitar grind sounds like. But it’s appealing nevertheless.
The problem here isn’t that Motel Creeps do a poor U2 impersonation, because they actually do a fairly decent one, especially on the standout tracks here: the semi-anthemic “Sheeba,” the soaring “Moonboots,” and the Joshua Tree-by-numbers (in a good way, kind of) “On the Trail of Your Scent,” the title of which unfortunately implies a love song written by one black lab to another. The problem is that nothing on The Gifts of Happenstance is good enough to make anyone forget even the low points in U2’s discography (I’m talking about stuff like that part on Rattle and Hum where Bono booms, “Okay, Edge, play the blues!”) Given that at this juncture everyone, down to Bill and Melinda Gates and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul Fricking O’Neill, is well-acquainted with the various and sundry highs and lows of U2’s oeuvre, the members of Motel Creeps aren’t going to fool anyone.
I’m reminded, ultimately, of the Walt Berkman character (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in last year’s The Squid and the Whale. The 16-year-old Walt passes off Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” as his own and performs it to rapturous applause at the high school talent show. When, inevitably, he gets busted for plagiarizing the song (it’s sort of hard to believe that no one at the talent show recognized it, but whatever), Walt offers in his own defense, “I felt I could have written it, so the fact that it was already written was kind of a technicality.”
Evidently, the members of Motel Creeps feel the fact that we already have one still-active, perfectly good U2 is kind of a technicality. They are, to put it plainly, wrong.
Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/motelcreeps