“Ronald Reagan was mired in the Iran-Contra scandal when Ric Ocasek and Co. released their last studio album,” CB 1987’s Door to Door. In 1997, when asked about the iconic new wave band ever reuniting, he said, “I’m saying never and you can count on that.” WK When original bassist Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000, a full-fledged reunion became an impossibility, but with four of five members still around, there was still hope, despite Ocasek’s “definitive” proclamation.
In 2005, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton tapped singer Todd Rundgren, drummer Prairie Prince, and bassist Kasim Sulton to tour as “The New Cars.” Their 2006 live release, It’s Alive! showcased a setlist leaning primarily on classic Cars’ songs like “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Shake It Up,” “You Might Think,” and “Drive.” Ocasek even offered up his blessing.
In 2011, nearly a quarter century after their last album, the Cars have made Ocasek eat his words as the four surviving members regroup for their seventh album. Ocasek told Paste magazine he was “amazed at how we clicked when we got back together.” WK “The band’s surprise reunion has pulled Robinson out of blissful retirement and once again into the madcap world of rock ‘n’ roll – a world that’s undergone a series of changes” CB – but on this “solid yet overly familiar collection” BM “the Cars haven’t moved their music an inch. This is the sound of a band picking up a conversation in midsentence.” JR
The band decided against replacing Orr, instead leaning on programmed bass parts or using Hawkes or producer Jacknife Lee to fill in. Asked about soldiering on without Orr, Robinson said, “we reflect on how good he was now more than ever. If he was here to contribute something now, it would be fantastic. Yeah, even every few years, I have to sort of look at videos of what he’s doing and how good he is, listen to the old songs.” CB
“The remaining quartet…both inhabit and stretch the sound that has served this group so well for so long.” JW “The Cars have made their darkest, most romantic album. It pulls you along.” JR “Yes, it’s clearly, indelibly The Cars – but they’re all circling sixty now, and while the music has energy and drive aplenty, songwriter Ocasek’s subject matter and attitude have evolved as the years have passed. He’ll still make you chuckle, tossing off a line like ‘I was looking like Ichabod Crane’ (who else in rock could say that and have people laugh because it’s true?) – but these days it seems he’s as likely to move your heart as your feet.” JW
When asked about how easy it was to reunite and spark the old chemistry, Robinson replied, “when you’re a musician, usually when they say things click they really click and it’s not just for the day when you’re working together. It’s just the way the people play and the kind of personalities that their music has, it’s together. So that’s why I think we could have done it anytime; we could do it anytime in the future.” CB
What makes the album amusing is how much it sounds familiar. “Something in the deadpan cadence of ‘Blue Tip’ reminds…[one] of Cake… oh, the combination of beefy guitar riffs and nerd-savant wordplay on ‘Keep on Knockin’’ has Weezer written all over it… and of course the synth-washed sigh of resignation that is ‘Take Another Look’ is so very OMD… et cetera, et cetera, except not. Because those other bands have each paid homage in their own way over the years to the ones, the onlys, the originals… The Cars.” JW
With “a terse guitar strum set against the machinelike thwack of snare drum and hand claps,” JR the first single, Sad Song, “is such a note-perfect evocation of the band’s vintage attack that it almost plays like winking self-parody.” JR “All the factory-standard features of the ‘80s-model Cars remain in place” BM making for “a sonic time machine.” JW There’s “David Robinson’s robo-backbeat,” JW “the straight-eight new-wave drive, Greg Hawkes’ sawtooth synth lines, Ric Ocasek’s evocatively tuneless way of singing, even the syncopated handclaps.” BM
The group’s “influence is audible in successive generations of pop-savvy rockers, from Weezer to the Strokes. Listen back to ‘Just What I Needed’ or ‘Drive’ and you’ll hear where many of today’s young bands learned their tricks: how to mix guitars and synthesizers, how to make rock that’s as tuneful as bubblegum, and pop that’s as stylishly sinister as rock. Move Like This is a reminder that New Wave can still sound new, especially when the Cars do it. Produced with skillful restraint by Ocasek, his bandmates and the dependable Jacknife Lee (the Hives, Snow Patrol), the album calls to mind adjectives long associated with the Cars: taut, sleek, seamless, efficient. It’s a record that whizzes past – 10 songs in less than 40 minutes — leaving behind a dark gleam.” JR
“It opens with a socko one-two punch: Blue Tip and Too Late, textbook Cars songs that place Ocasek’s deadpan atop Elliot Easton’s tensile lead guitar and Greg Hawkes’ blipping, squealing keyboards. The Cars have been called post-punk pop classicists – what Buddy Holly might have sounded like had he lived long enough to trade in his Strat for a Roland synthesizer. But the thing that has really set them apart is groove, and Ocasek is at his best in songs like Keep on Knockin’, singing a jittery version of the boogie blues.” JR
“Ocasek’s lyrics can be hard to parse, whether about sex (‘Your waxy face is melting on your lap/ I sat there trying to crush a gingersnap’) or politics (‘Sanctuary in the heartland/ Black-and-white TV/ Stroking all the gunheads/ To the ninth degree’). But for Ocasek, the sound is more important than the message – in fact, the sound is the message. The Cars have always been mood-music specialists; their cold, brittle, shiny songs evoke long nights, jagged nerves, frustrated longings.” JR
“Orr added some warmth, a touch of daylight, to the proceedings, but with him gone, Ocasek has burnished the group’s music to a glossier shade of noir.” JR “Soon is one of the group’s simplest and most heartfelt ballads ever, a dreamy and sneakily powerful tune that’s all the more poignant for having Ocasek sing lead instead of master balladeer Orr, the voice behind their lush 1984 hit ‘Drive.’ Drag on Forever adds sleigh bells to the sonic palette, and the moody, contemplative Take Another Look is distinctly middle-aged in perspective;” JW “‘Your eyes are dim, your heart is blue/ ’Cause nothing ever lasts,’ Ocasek croaks over chiming guitar arpeggios.” JR “‘Lyrical’ and ‘poetic’ are not adjectives you necessarily expect to use on a Cars review… but they fit here.” JW
“Ever the trickster, though, Ocasek finds a new way to wink at his audience on the closing Hits Me. In 1978 The Cars championed power-pop alienation, with Ocasek playing the geek/outcast/loser with edgy hipster cool. ‘Hits Me’ turns this conceit inside out, with formerly ahead-of-his-time Ocasek now the alienated outcast because the times have left him behind: ‘I don’t relate to the things they say / And I don’t want to be like them today… Yeah it hits me / I gotta just get through / These changing times.’” JW
“Not that the old-school fun is absent; to the contrary, Hawkes brings some fresh twists to his mad-scientist synth tones on frothy tunes like ‘Sad Song’ and Free without disturbing the core chunky guitar-bass-drums punch that places them alongside classic Cars numbers like ‘Bye Bye Love’.” JW Then again, the criticism of Move Like This could be that it “has everything that’s great about The Cars except the hits: It’s like an album that has ‘Moving in Stereo’ but no ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’, with ‘It’s Not the Night’ but no ‘Magic’. Ultimately, this relaunch evokes the desire to return to the original tunes rather than to play these new ones on repeat.” BM For good or bad, “listening to this album is like erasing the past thirty years of music, taking you back to a time when geek-chic was a fresh new concept, when emotional lyrics sung with detached irony were a daring innovation.” JW “No one but The Cars could issue an album like Move Like This in 2011, because no one but The Cars had the vision and courage to make music like this in 1978 – and no one has done it better since.” JW