It's Alive!

The New Cars

Eleven Seven Music, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It was inevitable, I suppose; from grab-some-retirement-cash partial reunions of successful 60s and 70s bands like the Doors, Journey and Queen, we've now moved into the 80s with INXS and the New Cars. (I grant you, The Cars came out in 1978, but that only confirms they were ahead of their time; this is the band that basically invented early 80s new wave power pop.)

As with the other examples noted, it's hard to shake that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when thinking about the whole deal here. Granted, original Cars holdovers Elliott Easton and Greg Hawkes have a point when they call their distinctive lead guitar and keyboard work "the band's musical nucleus." But as with the other bands mentioned, the new lineup features a ringer sitting in for the original group's memorable frontman.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Easton and Hawkes at least had the good sense and good fortune to recruit a quality ringer in Todd Rundgren, who jumps into Ric Ocasek's lead vocals/rhythm guitar slot with gusto. (For the record, Ocasek and original drummer David Robinson were invited to participate, but declined.) The New Cars' lineup is rounded out by bassist Kasim Sulton, Rundgren's bandmate in Utopia, and drummer Prairie Prince of Tubes fame.

The good news is, the new guys are clearly all huge Cars fans, and Rundgren's voice is a thoroughly suitable successor to Ocasek's on most of these songs. As this primarily live document illustrates, the new lineup has the original Cars' set list down cold, playing the classic hits with energy and authority. Highlights include a positively giddy "Shake It Up," a spot-on "Moving In Stereo" (complete with distortion on the vocals), and satisfyingly hard-rocking versions of "Let's Go" and "Let The Good Times Roll."

The one major stumble in the live set is the New Cars' version of the original band's mid-80s hit "Drive," which was sung in ethereal fashion by bassist Benjamin Orr, who passed away in 2000. Rundgren tries to take the song into a different register and crashes and burns three or four times while trying to both imitate Orr's distinctive phrasing and keep the song within his range. The original Cars had enough hits that the new lineup doesn't need this creeping disaster mucking up the set list; they should ditch it.

The disc also includes three new studio recordings that are respectable if not particularly notable, each drawing from the same original-Cars universe of lonely oddballs tapping their checkered Vans to sharp guitar lines and lush harmonies. Premier single "Not Tonight" is the obvious standout, the most skillfully executed Ric Ocasek homage I've heard outside of a tribute album. (Question: Was that a compliment or a slam? Answer: Yes.)

In the end, what the New Cars leave you with is a tricked-out Honda Accord that tries really hard to convince you it's a 7-series BMW. The vehicle might get you where you wanted to go, but is it really what you were looking for when you went shopping? I don't think so.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eleven Seven Music, and is used for informational purposes only.