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.

Another Crappy Poem

I wrote this a long time ago. It’s a completely non-autobiographical poem about a troubled rock ‘n’ roll star.

Tortured

A sea of faces stare in anticipation,
the bass drum kicks wicked repetition.
Guitar licks echo as the wind swirls,
my brow furrows at the swooning girls.
Every word I sing,
every reprise I bring,
makes them crazy – their toes in curls.

It’s not the sound of my voice,
irrelevant is any given word choice.
It’s not the chords from my guitar,
that bring them here from near and far.
The stadium is full,
which seems like such bull.
Who am I that should command such a star?

But here I stand, singing my song,
each word meaningless, everything wrong.
But still they scream, their lighters waving,
not knowing why they’re all craving,
my attention,
my affection,
in the windy night that they’re all braving.

My face is soaked, I’m filled with fears,
it’s not raining, I’m covered in tears.
It makes no sense, what have I done?
One would think it would be fun
to have written a song,
to which they sing along.
Tonight I make love to my gun.

The world’s greatest power ballad.

So in preparing for our first ever band rehearsal this weekend, I’ve written a power ballad. It’s based on two conversations that are completely unrelated. The first of which is one I had with Freddy Malinowski where we recognized the fact that if there were no such thing as a ballad, there would be no such thing as rock. Hence, we realized that “you cannot rock without the ballad.”

The other conversation was with Hoyer and DeRosa about whether we should practice during the day or at night. Turns out we’re rockin’ during the day because I’m going to the Bulls game with Carlita tomorrow night, so the daytime is our only option.

Nathan Lane Is Gay

The winds of rock came blowing in,
softly like a breeze.
But then the gusts came thrusting in,
roughly filled with sleeze.

We came to rock out but a fear sets in,
will we be too loud?
How in god’s name are we supposed to explain
this bullshit to our crowd?

Do we care that the neighbors are sleeping?
Sleeping fast and sound?
I don’t give a crap, not in the least,
but then, this isn’t my town.

That’s why I say, screw the bastards, we’re drunk.

You cannot rock without the ballad,
You cannot rock with a tossed Greek Salad.
Olives with pits or kiss my grits,
You cannot rock without the ballad.

I said screw the bastards we’re drunk.
How else could we play such effective funk.
Like the golfer named Freddy we ain’t no punk.
Like the David Hasselhoff, we ain’t no hunk.

But softly the winds of rock still blow.
Slowly the crowd leaves the show,
having seen us jam and seen us grow, a
fifty-five foot love gun from down below.

You cannot rock without the ballad,
You cannot rock with a tossed greek salad.
Olives with pits or kiss my grits,
You cannot rock without the ballad.

Do we practice at night or during the day?
Do we care if the sun’s still up when we play?
There’s really no doubt Nathan Lane is gay.
But do we practice at night or in the day.

To me it doesn’t matter, I just play the bass.
Pluckin’ it, and thumpin’ it while making a face.
Bomp chica bomp bomp, boom chica mace.
To me it doesn’t matter, I just play the bass.

You cannot rock without the ballad,
You cannot rock with a tossed greek salad.
Olives with pits or kiss my grits,
You cannot rock without the ballad.

We’re getting the band back together — Mmmm, mmmm, good!

So as many of you are aware, I’m in a band. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll band. We rock. Okay, so many of you probably aren’t aware of that, but you soon will be. Some of you might be aware that I’m the bass player. Others might be aware that I don’t actually know how to play a bass. But I’m not sure that the bass player from Linkin Park does either, so really, what’s the difference?

Anyway, the band I’m in also features my buddies Todd Hoyer and Matthew DeRosa. We’ve had this band for quite awhile now, we’ve just never had a rehearsal. But that’s all changing this weekend when we get together at Matt’s new house for our first ever practice. I think we’ll probably spend the first four hours of practice hanging tie-dye tapestries and christmas lights, but it’s sure to be productive after that.

I know you’re curious as to the name of our band. Well you’re gonna have to wait to find out. I can tell you that we were formerly known as The Loveguns. But then our tour manager died (or rather, our tour manager didn’t magically arise from the ashes of our cigarettes) and we felt we just couldn’t go on with that name after that. We sort of went our separate ways for awhile. I started my own side project with some other guys who still want to learn to play instruments and for a couple months there we had our own fantasy band called Too Tall Mikey and the Not So Handsome Cabbies. We were a Linkin Park cover band.

Anyway, as soon as our debut double album hits the stores, we’ll let you know.

But earlier today Todd, Matt, and I were trading lyrics to songs. Matt and Todd had a real life collaborative duo where they actually wrote real songs. Good ones, too. So I was feeling a little left out of the creative circle, so I took a second to compose my own song. The melody has to be determined, but it is my pleasure to present to you the first song written by me for the band formerly known as The Loveguns and soon to be something else.

Soup

Soup with a fork, filled with pork,
stars and noodles.
Who invented the spork, what a dork,
stars and noodles.

My soup is condensed and tastes like water, my life is condensed and
fates they falter, as do I when I try. But I try and I try.
Stars and noodles.

Chicken, beef, broth in a bullion cube.
I’m the chicken, so are millions o’you.
Where’s the beef? Beatin’ my ass
like a honky with no hair but a great big chunky, yet condensed mullet
on his melon.

The guy’s a felon.
(female chorus sings: felon-felon-felon-felon-felon)

My jaw be busted, my life be broke,
my girl done left me with a nickel
plated .9 strapped to the back of a
three legged dog named Toke.

Puff puff fogive, puff puff forgive.
Too high to cry too afraid to die,
but sober enough to find the Progresso.

Chicken with stars?
Chicken with noodles?
Or do you like beans?
Pinto, lima, green, or Navy?

[break to Village People refrain]

In the Navy!
blah blah blah blah
In the Navy!

[and back to the song]

My stars and my noodles
pit bulls or poodles,
Hold up, I didn’t order Chinese.
I’m all goddamn outta Febreeze.

Whether tomato with basil,
lentil with crackers,
Crab bisque with honkies,
or Duck Soup (with quackers)
Soup is good food.
Hooray for soup.

Groucho, Chico, Harpo and you.
But not Zeppo or Shemp
NO SOUP FOR YOU!

Soup!

Yeah. (spoken)