Move Like This

The Cars

Hear Music, 2011

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing about the bands that actually make a difference—that have had such a distinct and impactful musical identity that they’ve influenced countless acts that followed them—is that their music forever after carries an aspect of timelessness to it.

Move Like This, the first new album in 24 years from reunited new wave icons The Cars, is a sonic time machine. The unique aesthetics—from Elliott Easton’s angular, punchy guitar lines to Greg Hawkes’ retro-geeky synths to David Robinson’s robo-backbeat to Ric Ocasek’s archly awkward outsider-looking-in vocals—are stunningly intact, making this album feel of a piece with 1978’s The Cars and 1979’s Candy-O. 

The reality that those albums influenced literally hundreds (if not thousands) of acts that have come along since then creates a sort of sonic fun-house mirror effect in the music writer’s head.  Wait, something in the deadpan cadence of “Blue Tip” reminds me of Cake… oh, the combination of beefy guitar riffs and nerd-savant wordplay on “Keep On Knocking” 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.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What’s interesting to see, though, is how the remaining quartet (bassist-vocalist Ben Orr died in 2000) both inhabit and stretch the sound that has served this group so well for so long. 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.

Evidence the first: “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.  “Lyrical” and “poetic” are not adjectives you necessarily expect to use on a Cars review… but they fit here.

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.” Even the percussive handclaps are back.

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.” 

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. Even the brief, touching tribute the remaining quartet offers to Orr in the liner notes (“Ben, your spirit was with us on this one”) is spot-on. 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.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A



© 2011 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 Hear Music, and is used for informational purposes only.