(Hear Music, 2011)
Um… I don’t need to introduce The Cars, do I? If you’re reading such a cool and “with it” music page as this one, I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve got the basics of rock history down pretty well. [Ed note: You heard David – anybody else, get lost.] If not, here’s the short story: Experimental band from the post-punk era who used a unique blend of synthesizers and live instruments to create an incredibly catchy and aggresively danceable style rock and roll. For good examples of their wonderful sound, go listen to “Good Times Roll,” “Just What I Needed,” and “Night Spots.” Once you’re too tired to dance anymore, come back and finish this article, ’cause I’ve got some exciting stuff to share with you.
After an apparent final break-up in 1988, The Cars have finally returned to bestow further blessings of music on the earth! Minus one original member (the sadly deceased Benjamin Orr), The Cars reunited in 2010 for a tour and an accompanying album, entitled Move Like This.
Now, over the course of my life as an avid music lover, I’ve learned one thing. When a group of tired old musicians decide to reunite after a number of years in a dazzling comeback, it spells one thing: disaster. Does anyone remember David Bowie’s most recent album, The Next Day? How about the Stills-and/or-Young-missing Crosby & Nash? No? That’s because there was nothing worth remembering about those albums. Too often I see aging musicians pump out hollow nothingness and receive critical acclaim from the sympathetic public because “hey, come on, they’re old.” No. If you’re going to be a musician, you need to make music, otherwise you’re just wasting everybody’s time and money.
A few months ago I wrote a rave review of David Byrne’s collaboration with St. Vincent. When I wrote that, I thought to myself “Ah, David Byrne, the exception to the rule. You’ll never go all ‘Rolling Stones’ on me.” With this latest release from The Cars, I have to say that he’s got company – I’m at least equally impressed.
With Move Like This, The Cars have managed to skirt two very common pitfalls that other matured bands have succumbed to since the dawn of rock:
- An uninspired and completely generic comeback album, featuring songs that, once completed, you can’t seem to remember a single note of (see, for example, Bowie’s The Next Day).
- An album that’s so different in sound from the band’s signature style that it alienates their core audience and undermines all their past work (see, for example, Daft Punk’s Human After All).
Instead of either of these follies, The Cars have created and exciting album that can be considered a victorious return to top form after an (arguably) shaky artistic period in the 1980s and a long period of silence. They’ve still got the live instrumentals; they’ve still got the synthesizers, and most importantly, they’ve still got the rhythm. Most of the band members are in their mid-sixties by now, but this album serves as a shaming reminder to other musicians of age that it’s no excuse for a lesser product (I’m lookin’ at you, Bowie!).
The first song, “Blue Tip,” opens with such an unmistakably Cars synth riff, it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. In starts lead singer Ric Ocasek right away, with great lyrics and a voice that seems untouched by age or wear. The amount that the band’s sound has been preserved without turning into a parody of itself is phenomenal. Many musicians come out with great music in their later years, but it’s rare (unheard of) for a band to recapture their youth so thoroughly and so enjoyably as these gentlemen do on Move Like This. (An interesting note: Included in the album is a demo version of “Blue Tip,” and it sounds like the song is founded on a rhythm part that feels almost like reggae.)
After “Blue Tip,” the next song that really popped out to me on my first listen was “Sad Song” (NOTE: not an actual sad song). It sounds like it could’ve been taken straight from Candy-O, a beautifully written set of meaningful lyrics laid out on a beat so catchy that why would anyone bother to listen to the lyrics, the beat is just too awesome!
Of course, no album should be all fast beats and crazy synth riffs, and The Cars are professionals; they know when it’s time to dim the lights and play a slow dance. They make time in the album for two beautiful ballads, “Soon” and “Take Another Look.” Both have a pretty classic love song vibe. Neither is my favorite song off the album, but they’re very nice (“Soon” has a wonderful little synthesizer solo and “Take Another Look” has an almost Peter Gabriel–esque complimentary drum/guitar part), and they serve a great purpose in the album as a whole.
I won’t detail every song, as I’ve always found it’s more fun to discover the music for oneself. I will, however, leave you with this: Amidst a slew of mediocre comeback attempts and even worse new musicians, it’s been a desperately needed blast of fresh air to hear The Cars not only back, but back in peak form after so many years. I don’t know if they plan to release another album or not, but I sincerely hope they do, because their creative minds are clearly still brimming with music. With all the material from Move Like This, The Cars have certainly pleased the mixtape gods. Seriously, buy this album.
Recommended for fans of: Talking Heads, Blondie, new wave rock in general