Listening to Motorway to Roswell’s track “Magnetic” on this MP3 site, I hedged my instinct to dismiss it as another uninspired radio-ready grunge act. Was I getting soft? My sardonic put-downs should be flowing. I hate this stuff. To organize my mixed feelings, I decided to take my mom’s long-derided advice and make a pros and cons list:
First of all, Motorway to Roswell uses a lot of spacey guitar effects, from the initial squeal of phasing feedback that opens the track, which is an automatic check in the pros column. Not true space rock, mind you, but at least these people are floating around in the low-oxygen levels of the atmosphere. Alternative radio is absolutely overrun with dry tube amp guitar bands partying like it’s 1969. Second of all, they’re from Lake Ronkonkoma, where I went to high school, and whose train station was my lifeline to a city full of Cure T-shirts and falafel. This is a big check in the pros column. At first listen, the big check in the con column is that this song, in essence, is your standard post-grunge anthem in the Foo Fighters mold. Certain dynamics just feel hyper-recognizable. It took a few listens until I began to appreciate that they were using a neat little melodic guitar line to drive the song instead of relying on the crunchy power chords that I could have done without. Second, singer Carl Esperance has a nice plaintive non-steroid-abusing voice; he doesn’t sound like the growling hillbillies who are currently camping out on the FM dial. Third, its lyrics are simple and earnest and do not include the phrase “get your game on, get paid.” It is clear to me that it is not so much about what I like about this song, but rather what I don’t dislike. It’s hard not to absorb certain tired clichés of a genre when you’re young and these songs are being driven into your head like a railroad spike. If these lads indulge their more curious and inspired notions, and turn off commercial alternative radio, they could evolve into an angsty pop band to be reckoned with. If not, they could devolve into Lit.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 23, 1999