The Cars Move Like This(Hear Music) Buy it from Insound
Show of hands – who expected the Cars to make another record? This one was not on my radar screen at all. Why was I so excited when I saw it? It’s hard to say, but it can probably be chalked up to an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I was just about 12-13 and just discovering a grown-up love of music when the Cars first broke, and while I was primarily obsessed with the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, and looked down my nose at most of what was on the radio circa 1979-81, The Cars managed to seep into my system with their irresistible hooks and crunchy guitars. Later I developed a healthy respect for the guitar work of Elliot Easton and more recently I picked up the Cars again and recalled how many of their songs I genuinely loved. From the jaw-dropping guitar solo from Bye Bye Love, to the handclaps on My Best Friend’s Girl, to the stop and start rhythm of my favorite Cars song, It’s All I Can Do, they’ve given me and many others plenty of moments to remember. So when a band makes an impression on you at such a formative age, and when they actually endure past the adolescent enthusiasm, it should be no surprise that the news of a new album could get the blood pumping.
But there’s at least one small problem. Benjamin Orr, bassist and vocalist on some of the Cars best tracks, died tragically in 2000 from pancreatic cancer. So inevitably, this album was going to lean heavily on Ric Ocasek’s shoulders. Ocasek, not exactly a high-octane crooner, was always more of a novelty, applying his mannered yet playful and witty vocals to the other half of their hit-bag. On the other hand, he has one of the most distinctive voices in pop/rock, so as soon as Blue Tip get’s going, you know you are definitely listening to a bona fide Cars track. The retro synths and glass cutter guitar don’t hurt either. This one vintage band that’s not trying to run away from their vintage sound, and good for them, because not surprisingly, no one makes Cars songs as well as the Cars. Now perhaps it’s fair to say that the Cars don’t make Cars songs as well as they used to, but most of what we get here is pretty decent, like Sad Song, which will surely get the nostalgia neurons firing. It’s too bad really, because this one, and others like Too Late, are simply good pop songs which probably would have been minor hits back in the day, but now can’t compete for space in today’s beat-heavy marketplace.
If the whole album were as strong as these tracks, this would be an easy recommendation. Unfortunately the quality dips occasionally and even when it doesn’t, for instance on a fine song like Soon, the presence of Mr. Orr is sorely missed. Ocasek does a good job with it, but you don’t find yourself wishing for a silkier vocal. So the bottom line is this album turns out to be about half good, is probably not going to mean much to people who don’t remember them, and while it hits all the right notes in places, it doesn’t quite deliver any moments of pure pop perfection the way they used to. Still recommended though, for sticking to principles and partly succeeding.31 May, 2011 - 14:22 — Alan Shulman