Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Cars - The Final Laps

Following the arrival and passing of the ‘greatest hits’ package, the Cars officially went on extended hiatus in the interest of pursuing solo projects.  Guitarist Elliot Easton released a solo album (‘Change No Change’), whilst bassist Benjamin Orr also released a solo set (‘The Lace’), which yielded the US#24 hit ‘Stay The Night’.  As usual Ric Ocasek seemed the most creatively committed.  In mid ‘86 he released the album ‘This Side Of Paradise’ (US#52/OZ#24), featuring the tender ballad ‘Emotion In Motion’ (US#15/OZ#8).  Ocasek also took time out to lend his acting talents to the 1987 film ‘Made In Heaven’.

In hindsight, rather than build on the mammoth achievements of ‘Heartbeat City’, the Cars let the momentum falter and would never again reach that high watermark.  Though they had one final creative vehicle left to drive out of the showroom.

‘Door To Door’ knocked at the door of the US charts during September of ‘87, led out by the bright and catchy ‘You Are The Girl’ (US#17/OZ#69).  The single was pop savvy enough but failed to live up to commercial expectations, though once more the Cars were in fine promo video form acting up a treat in some post modern meets bizarro world space adventure.  I purchased ‘You Are The Girl’ on vinyl 45, and subsequently outlaid the readies for the ‘Door To Door’ on cassette (remember those?).

Two more singles followed, the guitar driven ‘Strap Me In’ (US#85), and the creeping up behind you sounding ‘Coming Up You’ (US#74).  My personal favourites from ‘Door To Door’ are the heavy, we mean business of ‘Double Trouble’, and the pulsating playfulness of ‘Ta Ta Wayo Wayo’.  All in all, and considering the inevitable comparisons with ‘Heartbeat City’, ‘Door To Door’ (US#26/ OZ#26/UK#72) fell short of critical expectations, with words such as lacklustre bandied about.  The chemistry was just a tad lacking, and the engine needed a tune.  Would the Cars be able to find their lost mojo?

The answer was soon revealed to be a firm no.  In February of 1988 it was announced that the Cars had disbanded.  There was no public airing of dirty laundry, no sense of an acrimonious split (though some working relationships were a tad frayed), more so just an artistic vehicle that had run its course and needed to be parked in the garage.  All five members of the Cars remained active on solo projects throughout the late 80s and into the 90s, with Ocasek continuing a steady output of work from 1990s’ ‘Fireball Zone’ to 1997’s ‘Troublizing’.  Sadly, in October of 2000 Cars’ bassist Benjamin Orr died from pancreatic cancer.  It seemed then that a Cars’ reunion would never happen.

Ric Ocasek continued to dedicate himself to his new life as a record producer, working with the likes of Weezer, Nada Surf, and No Doubt, but found time out to release another solo set, ‘Nexterday’, in 2005.   Around the same time Cars’ guitarist Elliot Easton, and keyboardist Greg Hawkes joined forces with acclaimed producer/singer Todd Rundgren, to form the New Cars.  The trio toured to great success, their shows featuring old Cars’ hits, Todd Rundgren hits, and some new material penned by the trio.  They toured with new wave compatriots Blondie during 2006, captured on a live album release, titled ‘It’s Alive!’.

In 2010, it was officially announced that the four surviving members of the Cars were to record and release an album of new material.  They worked with producer Jacknife Lee in a recording studio in Millbrook, New York.  By 2011, an all new model Cars album hit stores, under the title ‘Move Like This’.  I’ve not heard the album, but from track snippets and written review on All Music Guide, the Cars managed to capture some of their old captivating style and sound - new wave pop-rock to the core and proud of it.  As a stand alone album, even without the Cars body of work behind it, it would still work.

The Cars stand up to both the toughest commercial and critical scrutiny in a career that fitted the times they recorded in perfectly.  Here’s hoping there are one or two more circuits left in the Cars before the chequered flag.

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