Under Review: The Cars – Move Like This

The road to The Cars‘ new album was about as treacherous as they come. Following the release of 1987’s Door To Door, the group split as several members pursued solo careers. Though sales and critical recognition eluded the former Cars, they carried on until the ‘00s; a decade that would prove to be a turning point for the group. In October of 2000, bassist Benjamin Orr’s life was claimed by cancer, forever changing the dynamic of the still potentially viable band. Guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes joined up with Todd Rundgren and members of Utopia for The New Cars, a questionable experiment that yielded a few new tracks a disc’s worth of unnecessary live covers. Even without Orr, a Cars reunion seemed unlikely as guitarist/singer Ric Ocasek remained firm in his refusal to rejoin his former band. Late last year, rumors began to circulate that the surviving members of The Cars, Ocasek and drummer David Robinson included, would be getting back together for a new album and tour. The chapter in the Cars’ story that seemed like it would never get written was beginning.

Like so many reformed groups of the new wave era, The (current) Cars thrive on nostalgia. That’s why Move Like This carries so many hallmarks of their classic material. Precisely-timed handclaps, octave-jumping synthesizers and chugging rhythm guitars make the new songs instantly recognizable as coming from the same pen as “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Immediate standouts include opener “Blue Tip” and lead single “Sad Song,” both of which sound like they could’ve been big hits in the early ‘80s. Unlike the newer records from Devo, Gang Of Four or Bryan Ferry, Move Like This relies extremely heavily on evoking The Cars’ past without fully developing its own character.

To say that The Cars picked up where they left off in ’87 would be true but unfortunate: after regaining interest with Heartbeat City, Door To Door was a lackluster finale to an uneven run. Move Like This falters in its pacing, anachronistically placing upbeat numbers (the awkward “Keep On Knocking”) right up against ballads like those of later albums (“Soon,” which would’ve sounded much better with Orr’s vocals). It’s as if The Cars already know that they’re not going to follow this album up, so they’re unloading all their ideas while they still have an audience.

It really isn’t fair to try and judge Move Like This (or, really, any Cars album) alongside The Cars and Candy-O, given those records’ monolithic statuses. And you certainly can’t fault the band for making music that sounds like the music you’d expect them to make. That’s the thing about Move Like This: each listener’s own expectations, not to mention their opinions of The Cars’ original output, will strongly dictate what they get out of the new songs. . In “Hits Me,” Ocasek sings, “I just gotta get through these changin’ times.” He’s not trying to top himself, he’s just trying to survive. Move Like This might be more enjoyable if I was convinced that there might be more new music from The Cars down the road. Since this might be all we get, Move Like This doesn’t leave a bad taste so much as it makes me frustrated and hungry for more.

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~ by E. on May 16, 2011.

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