The Cars, "Move Like This" (Concord-Hear) () -- For their first album together in 24 years, the Cars (warning: automotive puns ahead) rebuild their New Wave chassis and hit the road with most of the original horsepower and a fuel mixture as combustible as ever. Now down to four (bassist Ben Orr died in 2000), the Cars' formula sounds surprisingly fresh and somehow as futuristic as "Candy-O" did in 1979.
The wait has been long, but it could have ended six years ago. Keyboardist Greg Hawkes and guitarist Elliott Easton were eager to tour the band again, but singer Ric Ocasek was not (thus, drummer David Robinson refrained, as well). So Hawkes and Easton hit the road with a new singer, Todd Rundgren, as the New Cars. They even recorded three songs that weren't half bad. Later, as Ocasek faced the prospect of another solo record -- and none of his solo efforts have enjoyed the success of the bands he's produced (Bad Brains, Weezer, No Doubt, more) -- he enlisted the others, who were game as long as everyone was on board.
"Move Like This" doesn't exactly pick up where the Cars left off. Instead of drawing a line from 1987's "Door to Door," this album almost emerges from the back side of 1980's "Panorama." Like that record, "Move Like This" is darker than expected, shadowy, hard to pin down -- and it gets markedly better after repeated listens.
The album opens strong with "Blue Tip," a succinct reminder that the sum is greater than the parts here -- even though the parts are fantastic, especially Hawkes' neo-Atari keyboards and Easton's nimble, alert guitars. (He's one of the best guitarists out there -- the kind that serves the song and rarely shows off with wankery solos.) What's new right away in "Blue Tip" is Ocasek. Where the rail-thin, sad-eyed singer once sang about misfit kids and night spots and focused romantic anguish, on "Blue Tip" he's still keeping things taut and tense -- but with a not-before-seen social conscience. "Simpletons a-circling," he sings in his same clipped, cool manner, and he throws out phrases to describe what sounds like cynical, hypocritical politicians who "stupefy the thinkers" and are "hugging all the flakes" while "stroking all the gunheads / to the ninth degree." The first single, "Sad Song," looks outward, too, taking its sadness from Ocasek's laundry list of troubled society, including "too many eyes looking for hope / too many tears looking for a way to cope."
"Move Like This," though, also suffers from a few of the ailments that have kept Ocasek's solo albums safely among the cult fans. His detachment is occasionally aggravating; even Easton's fat blues riff in the unfortunately titled "Drag on Forever" can't pull him into the light. Several songs, too, including "Sad Song," lack a chorus.
But the whole of "Move Like This" is good fun. The band even winks at its glory days a couple of times ("Keep on Knocking" opens with a guitar line that recalls "You're All I've Got Tonight," "Sad Song" opens with guitars and handclaps a la "My Best Friend's Girl"). This year's model is worth a test drive.
Stream "Move Like This" here.
In concert: Catch the Cars May 18 at the Riviera Theatre.
Also out Tuesday ...
Sloan, "The Double Cross" (Yep Roc) () -- Some Americans have various reasons they'd consider relocating to Canada -- the health care, the gun control, the comparable calm. I'd go just to be able to hear more Sloan. The heroic Halifax natives celebrate their 20th year in music with this, their 10th album ("Double Cross," as in XX). It's another platter of alarmingly perfect power pop -- the kind of perfection by which my frequent (sorry) uses of the phrase "power-pop perfection" are judged. Like Teenage Fanclub, Sloan records possess such broad scope within a narrow genre because of several songwriters (all four members write and sing), and "The Double Cross" features Sloan swapping those duties as much as they did on 1999's of-a-piece "Between the Bridges." Many songs here blend into one another the way that album did, too. Fans of the band's first decade will find a lot to love here.
In concert: Sloan has set a mostly Canadian tour this spring, but they will dip south for a May 26 show at Subterranean, 2011 W. North.
Wild Beasts, "Smother" (Domino) () -- Lust, infatuation and violence again are the chief themes of the third album from Britain's Wild Beasts. With his usual, disarming falsetto, singer Hayden Thorpe submits to a "Bed of Nails," and in the rhythmic "Reach a Bit Further" he and bassist-singer Tom Fleming apologize to each other, concluding, "Yes, I will do all the things you ask of me." Despite its title, the music of "Smother" is airy and clean. A more earthly Antony & the Johnsons, a franker Morrissey, a bawdy Coldplay -- it's still a heady, albeit often unsettling, mix of beauty and fear.