Music Review: The Cars — New Cars quality at a old Cars price

It’s been nearly 24 years since The Cars released a studio album — 1987′s Door To Door. After four and two score years, yesterday saw the release of Move Like This, the band’s latest album. All of the band’s original members reconvened for this effort, with the notable exception of bassist and vocalist Benjamin Orr, whose voice you’ll recognize singing lead on “Drive,” “Let’s Go,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Just What I Needed.” It’s relatively clear that he’s the one thing this new album is missing. Orr passed away in 2000 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Lead singer Ric Ocasek handles all the vocals on this seventh album by the band. Ocasek himself has been quoted as acknowledging that Orr would have done a better job on half of them. While this is likely true, the album is still really good. It’s classic Cars. Isn’t that what we want? Too often you hear bands from decades ago reunite in an attempt to re-invent themselves. Too often these bands simply sound old. Members of these bands have a misguided interpretation of where they fit in within the confines of pop culture. I’ve loved The Cars since seventh grade. I remember walking home from school in the warmth of spring listening to “Just What I Needed” on my cassette walkman. At the time I had a crush on April Velazquez. I still do, really. And Move Like This sort of reminds me that I do.

The Cars - Move Like This

The individual gray hairs that are beginning to decorate my beard might remind me that I’m not 13 anymore, but this album is as effective as any Just For Men product when it comes to reclaiming some semblance of youth. While it appears that the band hasn’t released any of the album’s songs as a single, it occurs to me that if the MTV that we knew in the 80′s (where they actually played music videos) still existed today, it’s possible that one of several songs off of Move Like This would be featured in heavy rotation. The best thing about this album is that they sound like The Cars. Each song is simple, poppy, well-structured, and quirky, yet somewhat profound.

They’re demonstrating their relevance.

One could argue that a drawback to this album is that it doesn’t really show any major growth by The Cars as a band. It’s true that they may have gone back to the well for the soft, repetitive two-string chords and light, steady high-hat beats that remain their signature. But that’s the thing, they didn’t forget the formula, and it still works. Though it might’ve been nice to see some departure, I guess that’s what solo careers are for. However, perhaps it also represents why the extended hiatus was a positive thing. Twenty-four years worth of these albums may not have been the greatest legacy, but an album like this ain’t too bad. Despite the nearly quarter-century absence, it’s nice to know that they’ve found their way back to the record store shelves. We still have record stores, right?

Again, it’s worth noting the absence of Ben Orr. His vocals would have perfectly suited songs like the enchanting “Soon” or the eerily familiar-sounding “Sad Song” (which doesn’t actually sound sad at all). This album is vintage early Cars. Many will remember Orr’s vocals from 1978′s “Moving In Stereo” which was featured in the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. If I have to remind you, it’s played during the slow motion Phoebe Cates/bikini scene.

"Hi Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were."

That’s pretty much all that’s missing from this album. They’re lacking the mysterious synthesizer and Orr’s voice that helped make the Cars sound like a more complete entity. On no song is this more evident than it is on “Take Another Look.” Ocasek does a decent job with the song, but the opening lines make it clear that Orr’s higher vocal range was invaluable to the band’s success over the years. This does not diminish the overall brilliance of the album, however. It’s as a close a return to what we love about the band as one could hope.

The question is: what prompted this sudden reunion of the band? Ocasek stated ages ago that the band would “never, ever” get back together. Could this be their way of reminding people of who they are? Perhaps it’s a knock at the door of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? Whatever the motivation, fans should be thankful. It’s an enjoyable album, and while not necessarily one of the greatest of the year, it is worth a download. You can do so for free here: http://www1.rollingstone.com/hearitnow/player/cars.html

Actually, nevermind downloading this album, run out to your local Record Town or Musicland to pick up a cassette tape of your very own. Just don’t hurt yourself trying to open that ridiculous, plastic shoplifting-prevention packaging that audio tapes used to come in. You know what I’m talking about, thirty-five-and-over year olds.

Duran Duran + Mark Ronson = Newer Wave

Yesterday, March 22, Duran Duran released the packaged version of their 13th studio album, All You Need Is Now. This album was actually originally released for download in December of last year, so it’s been out for several months. Without question this is their finest album in the last decade, and probably their best since the release of Rio in 1982. It’s unquestionably a better effort than 2007′s Red Carpet Massacre.

The album is produced by British DJ-turned-producer Mark Ronson. Ronson, who won a Grammy in 2008 for producing an album with Amy Winehouse, was only six years old at the time Duran Duran released Rio.

The first notes of the album appear to be signature Ronson. Not entirely unlike his own song, “Bang Bang Bang” released last year on the album  Record Collection by Mark Ronson and the Business Intl., these harsh, synthesized sounds that open the title track “All You Need Is Now” greet the listener almost as an assault the ears. But the jagged sound of the opening quickly gives way to the always perfect vocals of Simon Le Bon. It doesn’t take long to recognize that this just might, in fact, be your father’s Duran Duran.

After 19 years, they seem to have rediscovered the qualities that made them one of the biggest bands of the 80′s. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the album oozes the New Wave pop sensibilities that were so vivid on songs like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “The Reflex,” it probably is fair to say that it’d be corny to say that. But nonetheless, there it is.

Mark Ronson appears to be a bit retro as an artist in his own right. As a DJ, he gained notoriety not only for his talents at mixing, but also because of the vastness of the musical catalog from which he sampled. As such, many of the studio albums he’s released have distinct New Wave qualities to them. In an odd twist, he now finds himself in a position to put his own stamp on the new albums by some of those very artists that inspired him in the first place. While the individual members of Duran Duran, and Mark Ronson himself may literally be a generation apart, this pairing clearly demonstrates that music spans all generational gaps.

Unless you’re a fan of Taylor Swift. Not sure how to explain that. Sorry, future.

Dance Little Sister (Unless You’re a “Sister” — In Which Case, Please Leave)

For the last few months I’ve worked as a weekend DJ at a Chicago bowling alley. Last night I was relieved of this duty.

Pretty early on I was told that I should avoid playing songs later in the night that might attract the wrong “element.” I didn’t necessarily agree with this, but I don’t own the place, so I went along with it. It’s not like I’d have started playing hardcore rap all night every night, but it would’ve been nice to have the freedom to mix up the late-night playlist to include more R&B, club/dance, and some hip hop. But I was told what to avoid, so I did.

On one or two of those weekends where the owner was away, however, I might’ve pushed the envelope a bit. I’d put on Skee-Lo. Tone Loc. Candyman. Musto and Bones. These artists are more likely to attract drunken, white, 20-something douchebags than they are the “wrong element” that this owner seemed to fear. But on that first occasion when I worked up the courage to sneak a Tribe Called Quest song into the mix, you can imagine my surprise when the place wasn’t burned to the ground. I think I’d been conditioned to believe that if it was after midnight and I played “The Humpty Dance,”  a gangland massacre would’ve been the result.

So last night while DJing at this same Chicago bowling alley, I was berated by one of the owners for breaking this unwritten rule. I was told that I “still don’t get it.” I was told that there are undesirables in the place who the owner would like to see leave and the song I was playing was encouraging them to stay. The fact is that I can take criticism with the best of ‘em. In fact, I often seek it out. It’s how we get better at stuff in life. However, I simply have no tolerance for being treated like an asshole. And while it may be difficult for many to believe, I AM actually an adult. If I got drunk and ran over your dog with my car, yell at me all you want. If I irresponsibly forgot to pick you up at the airport because I was playing video games, yell at me all you want. If I sold all of your heart medication for beer money and as a result you had a massive heart attack and died before being brought back to life only to die again, come back and haunt me and yell at me all you want. I deserve it. But when you yell at me for playing a song you don’t like, it’s a good bet I’ll let you know I don’t appreciate it.

Nonetheless, after the brief dressing down I received last night, I bit my tongue, loaded up a classic rock playlist into the computer, and walked over the bar in an effort to cool down. I was pissed, but I was gonna choose my battles. Walking away was my way of letting it go.

I sat at the bar next to a friend. I had a beer as the playlist  played and then fell into conversation. Not really thinking it was a big deal, I remained away from the front counter and the DJ computer for awhile. Apparently I stayed away too long. The owner came over and asked if there was a reason why I disappeared. I responded that I loaded up a long list of songs and came to sit down. I was then told, “You don’t work here any more.”

Fired. Fired for playing a song.

The song I played? “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby.


Apparently pot-smoking, meth-snorting, gun-toting gangbangers in Cadillac Escalades are driving around the city looking for bowling alleys that play a lot of songs by mildly androgynous singer-songwriters from the late 80′s.

“Eat Our Dreams” — by Slazenger 7

I’m just days short of making it a year since my last post. Let’s consider today’s post a re-introduction of myself to the world, which is round. More to come soon.

As for this post, why I haven’t posted this video sooner, I’m simply not sure. But this is a video I made last summer for another Slazenger 7 song. I had some free time on my hands, and spent three days putting this thing together.  The instrumentation (with Todd introducing it) for the song was recorded as a demo in Matt’s basement, and I added the vocals myself later.

A New Slazenger 7 Video

Despite our inactivity, my band Slazenger 7 has a new video up and running on YouTube. This video is for our anthem titled “Chicago.” Guitarist Todd put this together a few weeks ago, though we shot the footage in drummer Matt’s basement well over a year ago. It’s a pretty good piece of work, in my opinion. How it hasn’t caught on nationally (or at least city-wide) I’m not sure. Once it starts playing, if you click on the vid it’ll take you right to YouTube, where you can rate the video or leave a comment. I invite you to do both.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy.

My First Solo Musical Project (Behind the Music – Slazenger 7.5)

So I’ve let a few months lapse by since I’ve really written a post. I threw a little thing up about the passing of Bettie Page, of course, but that simply needed doing. So I’ve decided to post something new here. I’m a bit apprehensive about doing this, but I’m posting a few songs I wrote recently. As some of you who are friends, and others of you who’ve followed the random postings on this blog over the years may know, for a period of time there I played bass in a band with a couple friends. We were called Slazenger 7. Unfortunately, the band has sort of stopped playing. We haven’t broken up or anything, we’ve just stopped playing. It’s a fine line of difference. Anyway, in the time since we’ve been inactive, I’ve come up with a few basslines that I thought were mildly interesting. So I did what I could to fine-tune them into actual songs, then I used GarageBand on my iMac to record them, add drum loops, more suplemental layers of live bass, and my own vocals. So the result is that now I’ve got three relatively complete songs, that I don’t know what to do with. So, rather than having them languish away on my own iTunes, I thought I’d share them with whoever stumbles upon this page. Since these aren’t actual Slazenger 7 songs, I’ve been labeling the artist as Slazenger 7.5. So I guess Slazenger 7.5 is just me.

Keep in mind that there are no guitars on these songs at all, and they’re recorded with the intention of adding guitars at some point. Of course, since I don’t play the guitar, I can’t do that. I’ve got an old friend whom I’m hoping will do the job at some point, however.

So, if you’re so inclined, I invite you to take a listen to the first of these songs. It’s titled “I Don’t Care Anymore” and you can give it a listen by clicking on the link below. I’d be interested in hearing some thoughts on it, as well. I’ve gone ahead and included lyrics below each link. That way you can sing along, too! The songs are listed in order beginning with the most recently recorded.

(Each link should open a new window taking you to a page the features the respective song. You should see something that says: “Play: Click here.” So just go ahead and click there. Thanks.)

I Don’t Care Anymore

The song ended just as his car began to sputter.
So he began to mutter.
He’s out of gas so far away from anywhere.
So he began to mutter.

CHORUS
This sucks I don’t care anymore.
Even karma should be good one time out of four
It’s not just mine but your life too that I abhor
I don’t look forward to what else is in store.

Things got worse when his car caught fire.
That’s right. It caught fire.
He just laughed and watched the smoke fly up to the sky.
It caught fire.

He reached into his inside pocket where he found a pen.
He found a pen.
He wrote down some thoughts that would be his goodbye note.
He found a pen.

CHORUS
This sucks I don’t care anymore.
Even karma should be good one time out of four
It’s not just mine but your life too that I abhor
I don’t look forward to what else is in store.

Clever Cleavage

Put your fingers over my eyes
And I’ll know that you’ll mesmerize
Never again try to disguise
Thoughts leading up to our final goodbyes

CHORUS
Just show your clever cleavage in the face of disaster.
Show your clever cleavage to get what you’re after.
Show your clever cleavage and be my master.
When life gives you questions clever cleavage is the answer.

See me sitting on top of the stairs
Hear me spitting out all of my cares
See me walking right out the door
Hear me say nothing no more

See me pick at that scab.
Hear me flag down that cab.

Its door is open and when I get in
A new beginning is about to begin
The cab is checkered and so is our past
And you can’t king me if we aren’t meant to last.

CHORUS
Just show your clever cleavage in the face of disaster.
Show your clever cleavage to get what you’re after.
Show your clever cleavage and you’ll be my master.
When life gives you questions clever cleavage is the answer.

It’s not about how you know (what I do)
It’s all about how you show (that you’re true)
It’s probably all gonna blow (up on you)
So just forget it (I love you)

Fingerlips
So this is the first song I ever did on my own. The lyrics were taken from a pile of songs I’d started writing but never came up with melodies for. So it’s a hodgepodge of different things that may or may not make any sense together. But lyrics aren’t always important. The important thing is the quality and the intensity of the psychedelic intoxicant that you’re enjoying while listening to the song.

Eeny meeny miney mo.
Harry Ashwater’s at the show.
Inky, Blinky, Dinky, Do.
Lick the ashes from the flue.
Come one, come one come all.
Enjoy the night before the fall.

Chorus
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps right through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get those goosebumps through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps through my fingertips.

(spoken)
I’ve never been intentionally walked.
I’ve never been unwittingly stalked.
I’ve never seen a pitcher point out that he balked.
And when I die, I wonder if my twisted body will be chalked.

But that is why you can’t assume the double play.
That is why all the heroes have packed up, gone away.
It’s probably why I like Dr. Seuess more than Monet.
But it won’t fix my raging case of immaculate disarray.

Chorus
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps right through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps through my fingertips.
Everytime I kiss your lips I get goosebumps through my fingertips.

Summer sun and winter cold.
Springtime rain and autumn mold.
Just like life, these things grow old.
Unless I’m dreaming, I struck gold.
Once or twice, so I’ve been told.
If I may be so very bold,
She’d like to have my hand to hold.
Shall I give it?
I suppose.

Chorus

Tuesday’s blues and Wednesday’s clues,
Thursday’s views are Friday’s news.
The weekend cruise with pretty sweet views,
Make us think about what choose.
But Monday’s dues from the abuse,
Makes us refuse to wait for cues.
Unless we lose our point of views,
We’re all gonna, gonna lose.

Chorus

I’m right here. Where’ve you been?

So I haven’t written in a little while. So what. Neither have you, have you?

So I’ve recently rediscovered three classic singles that I think many of us who listen to any sort of Classic Rock station will know, recognize, and appreciate. But I also have to believe that they’re three of the most underrated songs in quite some time. I’ll link to them below as I write about them. Go and listen, one at a time. Listen and read. Listen then read. Whatever you want. But however you hear them, just be sure to let the memories flood back from the deepest recesses of your subconscious. You’ve heard these songs before. You’ll hear these songs again. But from now on, you’ll notice these songs.

Follow the links below to hear each respective artist’s song. If necessary, click on the name of the song within the page’s music player. Then just allow yourself to listen to the songs.

First:
“No Time to Lose” by The Tarney-Spencer Band

I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s been completely overlooked by filmmakers and soundtrack compiler guys. There needs to be a movie set in the early 80′s that’s the equivalent of something like Dazed and Confused. A film like Breakfast Club doesn’t qualify because it was actually made in the early 80′s. We need a film made now that looks back at the early 80′s in the way that Dazed and Confused looked back at the mid-to-late70′s (it was actually set in 1976, our country’s bicentennial). And this song needs to be part of that film. I will say that a film like Napoleon Dynamite comes close to capturing the mood I’m looking for. Except for the fact that the movie is essentially set in 2003 Idaho. However, the props, costumes, songs, and overall manner of the characters are parachronisms. Within the context of Napoleon Dynamite I sort of see them as parodies of the past placed in the future so as to parody the present. Make sense? Never mind. What’s important is that we get our authentic 80′s movie made today. And this song should be in it. In fact, “No Time to Lose” will be the name of the movie and the first song heard in the film. And to top it all off, Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart will perform their own cover version of this song over the closing credits. This is significant because their successful mid-80′s comeback (not to mention Nancy Wilson’s chic status as the rocker wife of journalist/author/screenwriter/filmmaker Cameron Crowe. In fact, I suppose he’s sort of the logical choice to write and/or direct a film like this. But I feel like if he did that he’d simply be redoing Almost Famous with a Molly Ringwald feel. Anyway, “No Time to Lose” by the Tarney-Spencer Band. Listen and enjoy.

Second
“Rip Her to Shreds” by Blondie

Although this song was first released in 1976, I think I somehow remember it from being on one of their first Greatest Hits albums from like 1982. But I hadn’t heard it in more than 20 years until about four days ago. It came back to me in an instant and I felt like I was 10 years old again and listening to/overhearing my Uncle Jimmy’s records. (Without question one of my biggest musical influences growing up was my Uncle Jimmy’s vast record collection and his even seemingly vaster music knowledge). But nonetheless, this would make a great soundtrack song for such a movie.

Last:
“The Things We Do For Love” by 10cc

Again, this is a late ’70′s song. But this movie will cover the whole transition from Zeppelin into Pink Floyd into the Alan Parson’s Project into the Steve Miller Band’s 1982 hit “Abracadabra.” What more really needs to be said? This song fits. I see a scene where a romantic montage flowing seamlessly as “The Things We Do For Love” plays gingerly as an accompaniment to the frivolity the viewer enjoys even more as a result of hearing the song being played over that which they watch.

Maybe one of these days I’ll try to explain why I haven’t written in months. In fact, here you go:

I’m lazy.

There. Explained. Let’s move on.