ALBUM (1978)

Rewind album: 'The Cars' by The Cars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 4:24pm
 

The Cars

The Cars

Elektra

The Cars, blending traditional rock with pop sensibilities, appeared on the American music scene in the late 1970s with an eponymous debut album regarded in many quarters as a bona fide classic.

While they weren't as strange or experimental as contemporaries such as fellow Americans Talking Heads or as punchy as Britain's The The (to name but two), their main legacy might be the influence they had on bands from the 1990s such as Weezer and No Doubt - who The Cars' lead singer Ric Ocasek also produced.

With streamlined guitar rifts, melodic synthesisers and playful, love-torn vocals, the band managed to straddle the fine line between accessible and edgy - and also embodied the burgeoning New Wave movement that was prevalent at the time.

Put simply, The Cars were an everyman group whose songs were as likely to be played on rock stations listened to by middle-aged suburban bank managers as grown-up fans of playful John Hughes movies in which young people fall in and out of love over long, bucolic summers.

As for the band's name, there's little to suggest they harboured any particular fascination for cars (despite the seductive album cover) - it was just easy to spell and pronounce. "It's pop art, in a sense," Ocasek once said.

In many ways this defines the ethos of the band: democratic, inclusive, fun. And with a line-up that included guitarist and lead singer Ocasek, bassist and singer Benjamin Orr (who died from cancer in 2000), David Robinson on drums, Elliot Easton on guitar and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, they set about recording their debut soon after forming.

As for the album, it is something of a mixed bag. It seems to lack an identity or a voice - its meandering vision being a curse, not a blessing, and by no means allowing for the sort of boundary pushing one may expect from a New Wave band. While some tracks have a certain playfulness, the others are good enough in a sort of nod your head and smile politely kind of way.

The opener, Good Times Roll, is what you'd get if a pepped-up David Byrne and Queen were stuck in a studio and forced to craft a new song in 10 minutes, while My Best Friend's Girl has a certain bounce and a pleasant Graceland-era Paul Simon guitar riff, but is otherwise largely forgettable.

Things pick up with Just What I Needed, where the band's rock sensibilities shine through, while Bye Bye Love has a dreamy quality with its high-pitched synths and melancholic message.

Sadly, one gets the sense that with this LP, the journey was less of an innate desire and more a vocational requirement.

Oliver Clasper

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