The Cars – Move Like This (album review)

The Cars – Move Like This (Hear Music / Concord) CD review

It’s been almost a quarter century since the last studio album from the Cars, yet they’ve never really gone away.  Turn the radio on in any US city and you’re bound to hear their music: classic rock, adult contemporary, even alternative stations still have them in heavy rotation.  The band’s music has been featured in commercials (Circuit City was just one company that used “Just What I Needed” to great effect), in video games (Rock Band), and even in the music of newer acts like Weezer and Fountains of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom” is a total Cars’ rip-off).

The reason for this wide appeal has always been the band’s uncanny ability to mix mainstream rock with the avant-garde.  With all this popularity, it makes sense that we would eventually see the Cars resurface.  For Move Like This, their seventh album, the group has been reduced to a quartet with the passing in 2000 of bassist / vocalist Benjamin Orr, whose voice graced many of their biggest songs, including “Drive,” “Moving in Stereo,” and “Just What I Needed.”  The band chose not to bring in an outsider, instead having keyboardist Greg Hawkes handle the bass duties.

The album opens with “Blue Tip” — the simple guitar riff, driving beat and vintage synthesizer signals that the Cars may have aged, but their sound is still intact.  And amazingly, Ric Ocasek’s voice hasn’t lost any of the qualities that made him one of the most unique singers in rock.  Despite having a huge gap in their catalog, the band sounds completely at ease in their sound.  None of the ten tracks are direct copies of their older material; instead many of the songs have hints of the past.  “Sad Song,” the record’s first single, has guitar and handclaps that recall “My Best Friend’s Girl,” before morphing into a shimmering chorus.  “Free,” with its frenetic rhyming scheme and insistent riff sounds the most like their earliest work, while “Too Late” is very melodic, and could’ve easily fit on Heartbeat City.  Of the two ballads, “Soon” has a lullaby quality, while “Take Another Look” is the better of the two, with its pulsating keyboards.  There’s even an all-out rocker in “Keep on Knocking.”  Not surprising, it’s Hawkes’ clever synth lines that help keep things interesting – he always was their secret weapon.   The only thing really missing, besides Orr’s soulful vocals, is the slinky, rockabilly-infused guitar solos from Elliott Easton.  While there is plenty of rhythm guitar, his signature leads are strangely absent — he’s listed on the credits, but you’d never really know it from listening.  It’s a small gripe, considering how solid the album is – only the ironic “Drag on Forever” is a dud.    As in all good Cars’ records, Move Like This races by at a lean 37 minutes, begging for the repeat button.  A long-overdue, but triumphant return.  –Tony Peters