The Cars got back together?

On the radio this afternoon I heard something completely out of the blue: the DJ said The Cars have a new record coming out on May 10 and are doing a small tour. So I came home and checked it out, and, indeed, The Cars, minus the late Ben Orr, are releasing a new record called Move Like This next week. You can listen to it online here.

Bassist and vocalist Benjamin Orr died of cancer in 2000. Ric Ocasek, the other founding member, resisted a reunion for years, but wished the other members well when they got together with Todd Rundgren in 2005 for a project called The New Cars. Various members of the band played on Ocasek’s solo records, so they didn’t seem to have much animosity, but Ocasek famously hates touring.

I guess something changed.

Without Orr, Ocasek has to handle full-time lead vocals. Keyboardist Greg Hawkes played bass on most of Ocasek’s solo records, and takes over Ben Orr’s duties on this record.

So what’s it like?

I feel like I’m in the ’80s again listening to it. It’s been 24 years since they recorded together, but this record could have been recorded any time from 1987 to now. They still sound New Wave, and they still sound like The Cars, with hand claps, Ocasek’s quirky vocals and Hawkes’ synthesizers and Easton’s guitar that can move comfortably from background to center stage depending on what the situation calls for. The signature 64-voice vocals are in there too, but not as prominently. At least on those two tracks. You can miss them if you aren’t paying attention, whereas in the old days, they thumped you upside the head with them. Easton admitted the backing vocals felt weird without Orr.

In some respects it feels more like a Ric Ocasek solo album than a Cars album, since Ben Orr isn’t singing half the time. Sometimes Ocasek’s lyrics call for a Casanova to sing, and sometimes they call for a nutcase. More often than not, Ocasek took the nutcase role and Orr took the Casanova role. The slow songs “Soon” and “Take Another Look” just beg for Ben Orr to sing.

Overall I like the record. I’ve listened to it about three times now. But I don’t expect it to be a hit. “Sad Song” is an obvious single because it takes so many cues from earlier Cars hits. But there’s nothing on this record that just plants itself in your head and won’t let go and makes you want to put the single track on repeat play. There’s no “Just What I Needed” or “Best Friend’s Girl” here.

To sit down and listen to a whole album at once, I think it holds together exceptionally well–better, frankly, than some of their efforts from their heyday did. The problem is, does anyone listen to music that way anymore? Most people just buy the hits off the record for 99 cents, load them on their MP3 player, and mix them into the shuffle.

I like it and hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard from The Cars, but I’m terribly afraid this record will get lost in the shuffle. In an interview, either Hawkes or Easton said it’s not 1979 or 1982 anymore, and nobody wants it to be. Hopefully doing this record won’t make them change their minds about that.

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