By Joe Lynch

The Cars released 'Move Like This' in summer of 2011
The Cars, 2011

At first listen, the Cars’ first album of new material since 1987 seems to pick up where the band left off a couple of decades ago. Move Like This is nicely reminiscent of the band’s best work, but unfortunately it lacks something essential. The opening sounds of “Blue Tip,” for example, hearken back to a time when melody was still infused in pop music and the artists that sang the songs did so without the aid of software to correct their vocal missteps.

The opening measures, however, also expose what is missing from the album: the band’s bass guitarist and alternate lead singer, Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer. It is obvious, and painfully so, that the opening bass notes are provided and sequenced by Greg Hawkes on keyboard.

In a recent interview, Ric Ocasek spoke of there being a good deal of tension between Orr and him during the recording and songwriting process. I gather that Ocasek wanted full and complete control, but Orr, being a creative artist in his own right, pushed back, and thus the tension. However, out of such tension often comes great music, as was the case with The Cars late-’70s and early ’80s efforts.

Without someone to create that tension for this new album, what we have here is basically a Ric Ocasek solo recording that just happens to have the remaining Cars on board for the ride. This new release suggests that the tension between Ocasek and Orr provided for more melody and more background vocal harmony, as both of those elements are lacking here. They’re not entirely missing—there are some background vocals and some melody—but they’re not at the level of the previous albums.

Also missing here are the well-crafted guitar solos from Elliot Easton. Easton is all but castrated on this release, only managing to wrangle one solo, and a brief one at that.

Although Ocasek’s lyrics on the Cars albums were rarely political, this time he apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to take advantage of the current political climate and score a few points with the left, by including a line like “they’re stroking all the gun-heads to the ninth degree,” an unsubtle reference to any conservative politician the liberal listener may insert to fit their stereotypical views.

I don’t want to sound completely negative about this new release. There are several very enjoyable tracks, and it’s a welcome alternative to just about anything else current to the market today. “Too Late”, “Sad Song”, “Soon”, “Free”, and “Take Another Look” are fine alternative pop songs. (“Take Another Look,” however does beg for Benjamin Orr’s vocals.) Unfortunately, there is no place on today’s radio for such songs.

All in all, Move Like This is an effort that I will listen to and mostly enjoy from time to time, when the mood strikes. But as often happens when artists try to reclaim their former glory, it falls just short.

Joe Lynch writes about TV and movies at The Politics of Entertainment.