The Cars Bring 80s New Wave Back

The Cars first burst onto the music scene in 1978 with their hit-packed, self-titled debut. The band established themselves as one of the leaders of the ’80s new wave movement with hits such as “Just What I Needed,”   “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll.”

Their classic sound was integral to new wave. They managed to take a variety of influences and successfully combine them into a fantastic pop form. Without a doubt, the Cars were most renowned for their excellent combination of electronic synths and hard, driving guitars. They were able to do it consistently, and make it sound great.

The group went on to release a few more albums and enjoy more hits during the ’80s. After 10 years of success, the band called it quits in 1988.

Now, 23 years later and after respective solo projects, the remaining members of the band (founding bassist and singer Benjamin Orr died in 2000) have decided to reunite for another album.

“Move Like This” hits you off the bat as a Cars album. Co-frontman Ric Ocasek’s voice sounds eerily unchanged from 1978, and the snappy beats and guitar-heavy synth-pop are as present as ever. It’s clear from the first track.

“Blue Tip” opens the album with a classic Cars sound. Ocasek’s voice over David Robinson’s sharp drumbeat, combined with Greg Hawkes’ keyboards and Elliot Easton’s guitar melodies pick up right where the ’80s left off.

“Too Late” mellows it down a little with Ocasek’s darker tone and Easton’s mellifluous guitar play. Still, the first two tracks kick off the record through and through with the signature Cars sound.

One aspect that is sorely missed, however, is Orr’s vocals. His voice was slightly deeper and more affable than Ocasek’s, arguably the better of the two singers. He sang many of the group’s hits, like “Just What I Needed” and “Drive.” Orr’s voice was also better suited to the group’s slower songs, and he made them that much better. Ballads always present the danger of interrupting poppy, fast moving albums. Without Orr, “Move Like This” is even more susceptible to this.

In the album’s first slow song, “Soon,” the group creates a classic ’80s slow-synth ballad in Cars style. The melodies are good and the song is solid, but remembering the band’s successful ’80s ballads, it’s hard not to yearn for Orr’s voice, which would fit in perfectly here.

Another classic element of the group that seems to be lacking is Easton’s guitar lead.

Easton most certainly has some leads on “Move Like This,” but they seem to be sparse and lack much of the energy that helped make the Cars hits so much fun to listen to.

Still, something must be said of the group’s ability to so successfully capture the sound and attitude of the music they made over two decades ago.

“Sad Song” captures to a tee the disco, electronic and pop influences, among others, that classic new wave artists such as the Cars exhibited during the heyday of new wave music. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Move Like This” may capture the classic Cars spirit, but it’s unable to completely match much of the band’s prior work. Though the songs are solid and well-crafted with the experienced Ocasek at the wheel, they still don’t have that chart-topping potential of the full-form Cars.

There are a few songs that stand out. “Sad Song” and “Blue Tip” come to mind. However, it’s not by much. Most of the other tracks simply sound good when you listen to them, but none of them manage to keep you coming back to them again and again. They of course can’t begin to measure up to the group’s classic hits. But what would you expect?

Undeniably, the band’s prime is behind them – they’ve already made their place in music history. Any band today that combines pop synths and guitar owes them some degree of gratitude. And, missing a member of the band who was integral to their sound, it’s nearly impossible for them to completely rekindle the magic. Very, very few bands have been able to do it. Considering the circumstances, the Cars did as well as they could have. You’ve got to give them that.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars