THE ALBUM -- The Motels, "Careful," Capitol (ST-12070.; The SHOW -- At Merriweather Post Pavillion, in Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m. (with the Cars).

Nobody just falls in love in 1980: they walk like zombies through neurotic encounters, alternately craving and fearing close contact. At least that's the Motels' view in songs that warn of love as danger, slowly describe eerie "suspended admiration" and explore young "Party Professionals" dancing for the lack of emotion. In that light, their second album. "Careful," is a masterful collection of intelligent rock musings.

Lyrically and musically, the songs are free-floating, shifting gears in mid-clamor. On the title tracks, throaty spoken lines are mirrored in frantic, spell-binding chords on keyboards and guitars:

Spell it to you black and white

You think you're the kind of trouble

That is worth a lot

Can't you see you're very not

But just don't leave me

Throughout the LP, the mood is one of passionate groping in the dark, incorporating Elvis Costello-type melodies and word play; ringing electric organ and harsh imagery. The Motels' music is sprinkled with peculiarly manic one-liners -- "I find that you're not so sure of myself." and "Whose problem am I if I'm not yours?" Yet there are quiet passages and hummable riffs as well.

Only a couple of redundant cuts, with the requisite frantic beat and hollow feelings, mar the Motels' superior new wave accommodations. On "People, Places And Things," for instance, the familiar theme if alienation and the story concerns a couple -- "the right people" -- who meet and make love behind a magazine stand. Jumpy guitars and pulsating drums roar on but the cut goes nowhere, while the listener becomes a voyeur.

More often, the group throws some melodic curves that deserve close listening. The Motels' focal point, lead singer and chief songwriter Martha Davis, would seem a bolder presence where it not for the obvious compaisons to Blondie and Pretenders' well known punk femmes. But Davis demonstrates a wry humor and her intriguing lyrics capture the dazed, crazed attitudes of modern lust. One of her best compositions, "Whose Problem," effectively sets a heavy bass line to a slower-than-punk, mock-romatic beat. Her tone is typically deranged:

Think of it, I'd be a bargain

Think of it, I'd be a bargain

At half the cost

And except for the sanity

Nothing much has been lost

Davis' voice cuts through the ranging guitars and drums, sounding aching, stinging or tough as the occasion demands. Between her searing rock style and the band's polished musicianship, the Motels should be around after most punk imitators have checked out.