Emerging out of the netherworlds of Boston’s so-called “new wave” scene in the late Seventies, The Cars hit paydirt almost immediately with this self-titled debut album, and it remains even today one of the most identifiable landmark (read: mainstream) albums of that period.
The tracklist reads like something out of a late Seventies FM station’s Guide To Ratings Success; a selection of top singles; a master-class in the art of power pop, spiky and synthetic, occasionally heavy, energetic RnR for the masses. An album full of precious radio friendly hooks and relatively decent lyrics courtesy of Ric Ocasek, who shared the lead vocal duties with the late Benjamin Orr (who in turn, is at his best on ‘Just What I Needed’). Synthesizers are prominent throughout but the much under-rated Elliot Easton’s guitar craft is perhaps the biggest single factor behind the band’s success and he never sounded better than on here.
Heartbeat City, the band’s uneven fifth album, would ultimately challenge this one in terms of commercial plaudits (on the back of the soppy, yet undeniably plush, huge global smash ‘Drive’), but the debut is in a league of its own when it comes to impact and indeed, longevity. There is a certain freshness and zest on this album, and a crispness about the production, that the band would struggle to reproduce consistently on any subsequent album. It’s a breakthrough release, a virtual (but not quite) greatest hits package, and a mission statement all rolled into one.
So The Cars would not scale these heights again, this was as good as it got in terms of quality control. A no filler thriller, 35 minutes or so of pure unadulterated drivetime pop music, as heard on a Classic Rock station somewhere near you any minute now.
Highlights: All nine tracks cut the mustard. You’ll be well and truly zoned in by track four after listening to ‘Good Times Roll’, ‘Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘Just What I Needed’ but if you’re not, well, there really isn’t much point in continuing … however, in no particular order: ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’, ‘Moving In Stereo’, and ‘All Mixed Up’ are the best of the rest.