CD REVIEW: The Cars "Move Like This"

Chances are, if you're here reading this review, you're just as big a fan of The Cars as I am. I mean, I don't go around reading reviews of the new Yes or Strokes album because I just don't care. There's nothing about either band that has ever held my attention.

Not that either band is awful, they're just not my thing.

And, thus, where The Cars are concerned, despite the fact that their music is pleasant enough, I find them quite polarizing. You either really, really dig them or they're not even on your radar.

Of course, having said this, it is possible to be a huge fan of their early work (that masterful debut album, for example) and completely loathe their synthy mid-80's output, and vice-versa (I imagine).

Then there are the few, the proud, the middle-era Cars fans - those for whom the word Panorama holds a special place in the heart and Shake It Up is regarded as a listenable final act, the beginning of the end, if you will.

As well-crafted as Heartbeat City may have been, it was no more the creative blood, sweat and tears of a unified band as the latest Britney Spears joint. Truth be told, if Ric Ocasek could have recorded that album without the other members, he would have. While that's admirable and speaks to his skills as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, when he'd rather program cheesy drum patterns than let a great drummer like David Robinson do his thing, or all but erase Elliot Easton's tasty guitar work from the final mix, I can't help think Ocasek was being a dick for the sake of being a dick.

Of course, that brings us to Door To Door, which is, for all intents and puproses, a Ric Ocasek solo album. Maybe I'd feel better about it if it had been.

Add 23 years to the odometer and we now witness the welcome, albeit unlikely, return of The Cars, minus singer/bassist Benjamin Orr, who died from cancer some years back. On one hand, my remaining fondness for their first, third and fourth albums produces a sort of giddiness as I begin the process of taking in the new album, Move Like This.

I haven't yet placed any expectations upon it, for when we last heard from our faithful rock & roll heroes, they were but a shadow of their former selves, reduced to Ric Ocasek backing band.

My humble hopes are that the new album doesn't pick up where they left off, but, instead, picks up where they should have gone instead of where they went. Part of me thinks Ocasek must have some of the same regrets and that this was his main impetus for undertaking such a reunion.

From the opening blips and chugging guitars of "Blue Tip", things look promising. Now, if only he'd written a chorus for the song, then we'd be onto something. As it stands, it's a good approximation of Shake It Up-era Cars.

"Too Late" follows, sounding like a Heartbeat City outtake in its current state and then it hits you - what the tune is missing, what keeps it from truly taking off into the stratosphere, is Benjamin Orr's backing vocals. It was inevitable that, at some point, his absence would be felt and here we are not even two songs in and wishing he was here.

"Keep On Knocking" is a grungy rocker, all sludgy guitars, bells and whistles, and you wanna like it, really you do, but if you were to compare it to something, anything off that first record, you'd see it for the by-the-numbers song that it is. Whether it be The Who, Tom Petty or The Cars, I'm sorry, you better be prepared to have your new work compared to that which put you on the map, much less a higher tax bracket. Based on that criteria, this is a B-side at best. Also, not to beat a dead horse, but how about letting Easton cut loose on a track like this? As it stands, this track suffers from an all-too-familiar Ocasek-ian restraint.

"Soon" is a synthy, atmospheric ballad that, for many of the same reasons as "Keep On Knocking", fails to achieve lift-off. All the ingredients are there, you find yourself urging him on, knowing he can do it, and then...pfffft, all the air escapes and you're left with a song that coulda been a contender. Again, why reunite the band to cut a tune where nary a one of them is even playing?

"Sad Song" begins with a guitar lick that hints at "My Best Friend's Girl", then transforms quickly into a jittery rocker that could very well have been written for Door To Door. Again, a song with all the proper ingredients to kick you in the pants, but one that ultimately caves in on itself. And my money is on that being a drum machine and not actually Robinson playing. Why?

"Free" helps regain some of the lost momentum. Almost sounds like live drums. Requisite hand claps, check. Tasty vintage synth licks, right on. Decent chorus, but the backing vocals fail to soar. We miss you, Ben.

Oh, the balls it takes to write a song called "Drag On Forever", as, unless the song is absolutely the cat's pajamas, you invite criticism along the lines of "this song seems to 'drag on forever'." 'Nuff said.

"Take Another Look" seems straight out of Heartbeat City, utilizing all the same synth patches that Hawkes employed way back when. There are also so many stylistic and melodic similarities that it's odd how close the band comes to sounding as if time has stood still. Ocasek's vocals, however, leave a lot to be desired and you just know that if this was, in fact, 1984, Orr would be singing this song. That realization prevents this song from ever sounding like anything more than a half-realized demo. Not a bad one, mind you, just one that'll never be properly finished, as Orr isn't around to add the necessary "magic".

By the time "It's Only" kicks in, if I were Elliot Easton, I'd be wondering if my amp is even plugged in. Poor Elliott must have been asking, pleading, "Ric, do I really need to be here?"

When album closer "Hits Me" floods the room with those trademark chugging guitars and playful synth lines, it suddenly "hits me"...hey, was that an Elliot Easton lead guitar lick? Then the song freakin' ends and this listener is left wanting more, more, more.

While it was too much to ask the band to return to the supreme rock greatness of that first album, was I wrong to hope for an album that would at least show some proof of life compared to the clinical detachment of Door To Door?

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

1 comment:

  1. All in all... this is a fantastic album! It proves that The Cars are true artists, till the day they die . That cannot be denied. Especialy after 24 years to come back with this album... truly amazing! KEEP ON KNOCKING!!!