THE CARS – Move Like This

the cars‘Move To This’ may be the first new material recorded by The Cars since their forgettable swansong ‘Door To Door’ back in 1987, but after a few bars of their 2011 comeback release, it’s like they never really went away. The keyboard bleeps which cut through the main riff of the opening number ‘Blue Tip’ are unmistakably the work of Greg Hawkes and frontman Ric Ocasek’s spiky vocal style is even more distinctive. More impressively, not much of an attempt has been made to change or update The Cars’ signature sound here – ‘Blue Tip’ could have opened a Cars disc in the late 80s.

The four surviving members – Ric Ocasek (vocals/rhythm guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards, bass, backing vocals), David Robinson (drums) and Elliot Eason (guitar/backing vocals) sound as sharp as ever and Jacknife Lee’s production job is as lavish as either Roy Thomas Baker or Mutt Lange’s previous efforts with the band. After ‘Blue Tip’ opens with a keyboard bass augmented by jagged rhythm guitars, Hawkes chimes in with the mechanical keyboard sounds, making this sound like a number which sounds like it could be a ‘Candy-O’ leftover. To balance out the shameless new-wave elements on the verses, the chorus has a fuller sound where Elliot Easton gets to deliver a simple guitar riff. The Cars always had a knack for great hooks and ‘Blue Tip’ has a decent one, but it takes a couple of plays to sink in, since initially it’s a little overshadowed by those keyboard noises and the general excitement of a new Cars record.

‘Sad Song’ utilises handclaps and a rhythm guitar in a way which recalls ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and its chorus section riff has echoes of ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’. Both elements are given a dusting down and a new slant though, and here Hawkes’s keyboards have a fantastic full sound, brilliantly complimented by Robinson’s drumming, which has a hard edge without ever becoming aggressive.
A similar mood can be heard on ‘Hits Me’, which showcases the best elements of each of the musicians – Hawkes’s keyboards maintain their retro futurism, while Easton’s staccato guitar style dominates. The slow number ‘Soon’ – in a better, fairer world – would be a number which previously would have been a vocal spotlight for Ben Orr [Orr passed away in 2000 after a battle with pancreatic cancer]. Despite his edgier style, Ocasek manages to rein his voice in a little and deliver a sympathetic, soft vocal. Musically, its simplicity is the key; the rhythm guitars have a lovely ringing sound which carries the tune throughout and Greg Hawkes’s keys offer a few subtle bell noises. He can’t resist an old-school keyboard solo in the middle though; but even then, it sits on the good side of tasteful.

The quirky pop rock workout ‘Free’ has a slightly harder quality, which in places is reminiscent of Ocasek’s 1997 solo release ‘Troublizing’ with its more modern take on a retro sound (but certainly none the worse for that), while it’s occasional stabbing guitar riff tips the hat to ‘Bye Bye Love’ from The Cars’ debut album. The chorus is strong, with Ocasek backed up by Hawkes and Easton on a pleasing backing vocal. ‘Drag On Forever’ has a gentle chug which manages to stay buoyant thanks to a lead guitar part creeping in between the verses, with Easton delivering long, full notes. The whole track is swamped by the sound of Christmas bells, which can seem a little jarring – maybe that was Greg Hawkes’s way of lightening the mood a little… ‘Take Another Look’ is the album’s most lightweight number, harking back to the most commercial moments of ‘Heartbeat City’. David Robinson’s electronic drums underpin a smooth arrangement full of harmony vocals on a very, very Ben Orr-esque number.

It may not be as classic as The Cars self-titled 1978 debut or as over-polished as parts of their 1985 million-selling ‘Heartbeat City’, but ‘Move Like This’ is streets ahead of 1980’s difficult ‘Panorama’ or 1987’s ‘Door To Door’. Original bassist/second vocalist Ben Orr is sadly missed in a couple of places, but the four surviving original members deliver an album which celebrates the past without ever sounding self-congratulatory. Comebacks can sometimes sound forced or stale (especially if that comeback is solely money oriented), but for ‘Move Like This’, there’s no hint of that. The chemistry between Ocasek, Hawkes, Easton and Robinson sounds magical, with their formulaic, somewhat predictable sound often working as a great strength. An album with so much riding on it could have been disappointing, but for long-time fans this is a welcome return and an essential purchase.

May 2010

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