The Cars: Move Like This

Written by April 26th, 2011 at 9:58 am

The Cars
Move Like This
(Hear Music/Concord)
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Saying that Move Like This sounds like a pretty good Cars album might seem to be damning it with faint praise. That’s especially true since it’s the group’s first studio effort after sputtering off the road with 1987’s disappointing Door To Door. Despite the untimely 2000 death of founding vocalist/bassist Ben Orr (keyboardist Greg Hawkes now picks up the bass parts), time otherwise stands still on this 37 minute, 10 track comeback. Riffs and hooks fly like in the old days, but all of them seem to be grabbed from one of the group’s 80s tracks, and the slick production—split between “Jacknife” Lee and the band—rounds off any experimental edges that might have pushed this into more intriguing territory.

The project began as a Ric Ocasek solo album, so even after inviting the three other Cars to flesh out his songs, the focus remains clearly on him. For better or worse, his voice hasn’t aged and his new songs are melodic ballads and rockers that could have slotted between the hits on Shake It Up or Candy-O. The problem is that they would never have been the hits, and even though there are pop worthy moments a-plenty, nothing sticks in your brain the way the band’s best work always did.

That means graying fans who grew up with Heartbeat City as the soundtrack to their high school years will hear Hawkes’ squiggly synths, Elliot Easton’s crunchy guitars and David Robinson’s metronomic drumming and might initially hail this as a welcome return. But even they may find themselves crate digging in their attics for the Cars initial clutch of new wave classics, leaving this as a pleasant, professional, classy yet ultimately disappointing diversion. For a band that many hoped might come roaring back from Where Are They Now? purgatory with engines in overdrive, this is bound to be a letdown.

Instead of a lean and mean Mercedes we get a souped up Hyundai. Back to the garage, guys.

  • Cody

    God damn if this isn’t a good if not great album then I don’t know what is. SO damn hard to please critics these days. Listen, I’m 20 years old, didn’t grow up with the Cars, yet I still know that this album is better than 80% of what comes out these days. You’re over thinking it.

  • Dan Newit

    This is a spot on review- perhaps even a little bit generous. The entries on “Move Like This” really do feel like middling Cars filler- or even worse, middling, post-”Beatitude” Ocasek solo filler.

    “Door to Door” was an uneven album to be sure- and markedly inferior than the entries that came before it. Yet its strongest tracks, “Double Trouble”, “Leave or Stay”, and “Strap Me In” were superior to anything on “Move Like This”.

    Ocasek fritters away the potential for a magic reunion largely by relying on soft, banal lyrics. This is a guy who has written some pretty clever, cutting, or poignant lyrics in his life. You don’t have to look further than “Drive” or “Just What I Needed” to see that.

    But here- as on all his post-Beatitude albums- he’s coasting on gooey, shapeless lyrics that don’t say anything. Yes, some of the songs have a bit of the old Cars hooks and energy- and it feels good to hear that coming from sexagenarians. But when they’re coupled with lyrical dribble, it has little power to provoke emotion. That’s the real tragedy here- because it was so avoidable.

    Nobody wants to admit it- Ocasek in particular- but the paradox of the Cars great many hits was always that the band projected this ironic, cool, aloof persona- while often delivering storylines and turns of phrase that really punched the gut or touched the heart. Even on their most experimental album- “Panaroma”- Ocasek managed to deliver some truly original gems like “Don’t Tell Me No” and “You Wear Those Eyes”.

    On “Move Like This”- there are no gems. It’s costume jewelry- and its nice for playing dress-up and pretending. But some of us didn’t want to have to pretend. Ocasek should’ve at least asked Elliott Easton if they could cover one of his earlier solo ditties. Songs off of “Change No Change” like the Beach Boyish ballad “Wide Awake” are a far cry stronger than what’s on display here.

  • David

    I agree with your review. I was one of those weaned on the early albums (I’m in my mid-40′s). “Blue Tip” and “Sad Song” were songs that have been out for a few months and that really had me excited about the album. But it was a bit of a letdown after those tunes. Still, I’m thrilled just to enjoy half the album. As always seems to be the case, the best new music is still pumped out by kids in their 20′s (even the ones influenced by my favorite 80′s bands).

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