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Deep Cuts #21: Motor Ace – 'Five Star Laundry'
Melbourne pub rock meets Brit-pop and grunge at the turn of the millennium.
Artist: Motor Ace
Album: Five Star Laundry
Release: March 5th, 2001
Label: Sputnik (Festival Mushroom Records)
Growing up in a small country town, I savoured any opportunity to travel to the “city,” i.e. the slighter larger country town approximately three hours’ drive away.
While my parents ran errands and purchased essential items, I would squirrel myself away to various outlets looking for magazines, nerdy sci-fi books, very ~cool~ skate shop clothing, and new music to consume. This was important because, right around the turn of the millennium, I was beginning to develop my own musical taste as I entered high school. A close family friend had burned a bunch of CD-Rs for me to browse through, and these filled my cherished zip-up wallet (remember those?) with selected tomes of the nu-metal, skate punk, and white-people rap variety.
One winter, I picked up a CD compilation that would end up changing the trajectory of my musical discovery for years to come. And it was within that two-disc sampler that I discovered Melbourne post-grunge rockers Motor Ace and their debut album, Five Star Laundry.
As a rambunctious teenager looking to push boundaries and test parental waters, nothing screams “LISTEN TO ME NOW!” than a CD with a huge “Warning: This Record Contains Explicit Language” advisory sticker. Not that my parents actually gave a shit, often swearing more themselves than any potentially corrupting musical influence (thanks, Mum), but my point still stands.
The Xtreme music two-disc CD compilation came out in 2001 and featured a choice selection of Australian and North American artists, including Powderfinger, Machine Gun Fellatio, Superheist, Killing Heidi, 28 Days, Frenzal Rhomb, Grinspoon, Sunk Loto, One Dollar Short, Queens of the Stone Age, 3 Doors Down, Papa Roach, Live, Lit, Marilyn Manson, New Radicals, Bloodhound Gang, Godsmack, Wheatus, Jurassic 5, and many more.
It’s a veritable who’s-who of 2000-era Channel [V] programming (if you know, you know), so you best believe I bought this one immediately.
I have this distinct memory of driving home and dropping this bad boy into my battered silver SONY Walkman ESPMAX D-E225 (if you know, you know) and immediately hitting play. I was familiar with maybe one-third of the artists on the comp, so this was prime time for new tunes, and my ears were hot and ready.
Four tracks deep into disc one, the intro for “Hey Driver” kicks in. This is also the opening track to Five Star Laundry, and it’s quite possibly the perfect introduction to the glorious intersection of grunge and alt-rock.
Drummer Damian Costin marches into the mix with consistent rimshots and playful hi-hats, followed by a jangly lead guitar lick and thick, bottom-end thrum. Swelling noise and feedback from Craig Harnath’s warm production adds to the track’s rising intensity right before a huge snare roll announces the wall of riffage to come from axe-men Patrick Robertson and Dave Ong.
While I was already familiar with “loud” music, this sound was entirely new to me. The visceral feeling you get when a wall of overdriven riffs hits your teenage brain pleasure centre could likely fill a thousand psychology textbooks.
Robertson’s distinctly Melbourne affect, delivered through lyrical nods to fear and anxiety, was all too relatable at the time, and I often went back and listened to this track excessively, over and over again, trying to dissect exactly why I loved it so much. Every guitar accent, every snare hit, every vocal melody and harmony—it was all alluring and exciting, and I was utterly hooked.
Once I had a copy of Five Star Laundry, I found more to love and even more to obsess over. I’ve adored this record for over two decades, and hearing the chorus of the LP’s title track still makes me sing along at No-One-Is-Listening-So-I-Don’t-Care volume every single time. It’s a banger tune and one of the group’s best.
Slowing things down to a more mid-tempo vibe, the quartet master the push-pull dynamics of iconic pop songwriting. The interplay of rhythm and lead guitar lines shimmer and bounce of Robertson’s soaring chorus melody, rising aptly to meet his final hung high notes.
The verses also feature these little pinched notes from Ong in the empty space of Costin and bassist Matt Balfe’s locked-in groove, perfectly complementing Robertson’s emphatic shouted vocals.
With one of the strongest Side A runs that I can think of, Five Star Laundry finally lets its guard down on a certified tearjerker, described by Matt Hayman in a street press review from the album’s release cycle as “a power ballad soaked in youthful self-pity.”
Over a sombre acoustic intro and engaging verse, “Lorenzo” finds Robertson waxing lyrical about watching late-night infomercials and unwanted solitude. His verses accurately describe the feeling of romantic “limbo,” where you know (or suspect?) that your lover is out with someone else, and all you have to lean on are the dark corners of your own thoughts.
“Someone else standing in my shoes/
Count the hours since he left his boots behind.
Still in limbo, think I’ll stay up late/
This infomercial’s got me lifting weights for you.”
Driving into a soaring chorus, Robertson stretches and elongates certain syllables across different pitches—an effect known as melisma in music theory—rising and falling with the track’s instrumental. It’s a unique and powerful performance choice, one that serves to accentuate and intensify the loneliness and desperation of the track’s lyrics. Youthful self-pity, indeed.
In 2001, my romantic period of crushes and affection was only just beginning, yet I’ve since grown around and within Robertson’s storytelling on Five Star Laundry, finding expressions and ideas codified in his lyrics that required adolescent chemistry, adult aimlessness, and far too many beers to unlock.
While it might not have achieved the same level of acclaim and status as other early 2000s Aussie staples, Five Star Laundry remains important to me for its enduring relevance and impeccable musicianship.
It’s the record that got me to think seriously and earnestly about rock at a pivotal point and broadened my taste in the sounds of grunge, shoegaze, Brit-pop, and so much more.
I was fortunate enough to see Motor Ace following their 2018 reformation and witness the glory of Five Star Laundry up close and in person on their 2019 headline tour. And more recently, the band have even put out new material, including the playful single “Knock Knock.”
Hearing these songs come alive in person was a true bucket list moment for my teenage self, watching a band that I thought I’d missed by a handful of years playing songs that I absolutely cherish to a packed room of people who—likely, I surmised—felt exactly the same way.
For a more comprehensive deep dive into this record, check out our upcoming Deep Cuts episode on The Pitch of Discontent podcast, where my lovely co-host and I go through select tracks from Five Star Laundry and discuss Motor Ace’s origin, career and overall impact. Listen below:
You can find all of the albums in this series in the TPD // Deep Cuts playlist.