Move Like This
While many Cars fans were dismayed when Greg Hawkes and Elliot Easton reformed the band under a new moniker, The New Cars, and without the lead singer and songwriter Rick Ocasek, it may have laid the groundwork for the eventual comeback album of the original band.
Perhaps Ocasek realised his bandmates still have the requisite chops, because late last year he called them, individually, declaring he had a fistful of new tunes and asking whether they wanted to return to the studio.
The end result is Move Like This and it is the best Cars album since Heart Beat City. A few seconds into the rhythmic opener Blue Tip, you realise the band mean business. The nervy energy that had slowly dissipated after that hit album has returned to full effect, as well as those trademark synchronised handclaps, jerky riffs and pogo-ing synths.
Ocasek's vintage voice, too, is in fine form, veering from melodic yelp to frail croon.
By the time you reach Blue Tip's chorus, which has the band finally locked in with Hawkes's driving riffs and Easton's darting synths, it becomes heady stuff and you can't help moving along on the spot.
The momentum from this brilliant opener rarely lets up, particularly in the first half. Too Late has an anthemic chorus similar to their classic All I Can Do. Keep on Knocking is one of the group's most rocking offerings, with Hawkes delivering his dirtiest guitar licks. And the first single, Sad Song, explodes into the euphoric guitar/synth chorus The Killers always aspired to but rarely achieved.
The Cars always had a knack of being appealing and delightfully obtuse at the same time. The former comes in the form of sugary choruses while Ocasek's enigmatic lyrics are responsible for the latter.
In the searching Drag On Forever, Ocasek declares "your waxy face is melting on your lap / I sat there trying to crush a ginger snap" over a bed of crunchy guitars.
But Ocasek is also a sentimentalist at heart and can be pointedly direct with the band's biggest hit Drive. In Soon he creates a worthy sequel to that classic track; while the former was his plea to a woman, Soon has Ocasek being more self-effacing, blaming himself when he acknowledges that "soon the time will come / I know what I put you through".
It is here that one truly misses the late Benjamin Orr, the band's original bassist. His warm tone was often employed to deliver some of Ocasek's most touching odes. You get the feeling he would have been the one taking the lead on Soon.
The in-demand producer Jacknife Lee adds a modern sheen to the proceedings, ensuring the album is not a mere vintage retread, yet there are still a few clunkers: Drag on Forever lives up to its name, while Take Another Look comes awfully close to sounding like a 1980s Phil Collins ballad.
On Move Like This, though, The Cars are mostly smooth and effortless, showing the youngsters just who is in the driving seat.