Move Like This, The Cars’ first album of new music in many years, is a vibrant and ingenious collection that expertly extends their already extraordinary canon. Retooling innovative art rock, sleek New Wave, and punchy power pop in their own idiosyncratic image, The Cars’ groundbreaking sonic approach continues to influence artists and airwaves today. Singer/guitarist Ric Ocasek emerged as a master songwriter with his enigmatic integration of evocative, beat-inspired lyricism with radio-friendly hooks and harmonies, fueling a multi-platinum body of work that includes such indisputable masterpieces as 1978’s self-titled debut and 1984’s blockbuster Heartbeat City.
Move Like This reveals The Cars to be as creatively progressive and melodically poptastic as ever. Songs like “Blue Tip” and “Free” are invigorating and imaginatively wrought, with all the trademark elements in place, from Ocasek’s sardonic, man-machine vocalizing and Greg Hawkes’ swirling synths to Elliot Easton’s turbo-charged riffing and David Robinson’s pop-motorik beats. Brimming with confidence and imaginative energy, Move Like This boasts all the vitality and dynamism of a truly great rock ‘n’ roll band operating at the peak of their considerable power.
The project’s genesis came in the fall of 2009 as Ocasek considered how to proceed with his latest sheaf of songs, his first batch of material since 2005’s solo Nexterday. As he debated how to record – On his own? With a new group of musicians? – he realized that his best option was the three players with whom he had the most symbiotic relationship.
“I just thought, it’s been a long time since I played with these guys,” Ocasek says, “but they’re the ones that will do the best job. They’re the ones that I wouldn’t have to explain things to, they wouldn’t have to get used to the way I write, they’re already inundated with all that. I’ll just put out a feeler and see if they’d be interested in doing it.”
He reached out to Hawkes, Easton, and Robinson, each of whom was excited at the opportunity to play together again. In October, The Cars convened for rehearsals in bucolic Millbrook, New York, working at both Millbrook Sound Studios and Ocasek’s home Broken Beak Studio. After a few days of what Ocasek describes as “brushing off the cobwebs,” songs quickly began taking shape, including “Free,” “Blue Tip,” “Drag On Forever,” and “Too Late.”
“It totally clicked immediately,” Ocasek says. “Everybody got right into it as if we had never stopped playing. After two days I thought, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be cool.’”
“It was very comfortable,” Hawkes says, “Everybody just returned to their old sense of humor.”
All four agreed from the start that there was no replacing the late bassist/co-lead singer Ben Orr, who passed away in 2000. Hawkes took on the bass duties.
“I felt it most when it became a reality that we were going to make a record as the four of us,” Ocasek says. “It was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m going to have to sing them all.’”
Though the original plan was to self-record with no goal greater than releasing the results online, The Cars were so energized by the rehearsals that they decided to team up with an outside producer, someone who would allow the band to simply be a band while also adding a new perspective to the proceedings.
“If it didn’t go well,” Ocasek says, “we could blame it on the producer. Which I know from being a producer (Weezer, Bad Brains, Iggy Pop, No Doubt, Bad Religion and Guided By Voices among others) is a good thing to have around.”
Ocasek contacted Garret “Jacknife” Lee, whom he admired for his work with such bands as Weezer, The Hives, and Snow Patrol. An avowed Cars fan, the producer was thrilled at the opportunity to work with the band, who headed to Los Angeles’ Village Recorders for two weeks of sessions. He credits Lee as a “phenomenal” collaborator, arranger, and musician.
“As a producer, you can’t want for anything else,” Lee says of collaborating with the band and Ocasek, who he credits as producing some of his favorite albums (Suicide, Weezer, Bad Brains). “It was one of the best recording experiences I’ve had. There’s a freshness and clarity to The Cars and Move Like This that most new bands don’t have. That’s pretty special.”
“The Cars have always had a futuristic sound, and this is something we wanted to keep – tight, taut and lean,” Lee says.
“He was just perfect for this record,” Ocasek says. “He had stupendous ideas, he was technically on top of everything. He earns the name ‘Jacknife’ because he’s so quick. He knew right away if something worked or not.”
“Garret really felt like a band member in a lot of ways,” Hawkes says. “He’s a smart guy with a lot of good ideas. Garret really pointed us in a good direction.”
With five Lee-produced tracks complete, The Cars returned to Millbrook where they self-produced the remainder of the album on their own, ably assisted by longtime Ocasek engineer Stephen George. While lesser bands would’ve been content to simply coast on pastiche, The Cars’ determined focus all along was how best to put a contemporary spin on their timeless sound. From the swaggering fizz of “Too Late” and “It’s Only” to the lithesome melodicism of “Soon” and “Take Another Look,” Move Like This succeeds in spades, pulling off the uncanny trick of sounding simultaneously classic and emphatically up to date.
“We definitely wanted to bring a modern slant to it,” Hawkes says. “That’s what’s unique about this record. We tried hard to keep it from just being a nostalgia thing, which is obviously hard to do, because our whole history is in the past.”
The album’s lyrical content is equally contemporaneous, with songs such as “Sad Song” and “Blue Tip” born from Ocasek’s interest in how media influences the way people think. The songwriter sees the album as a significant progression from his remarkable catalog.
“I always used to say you write the same song all the time,” Ocasek says, “but I felt these songs were somewhat different from what I usually do. I felt the lyrics were more topical, a bit more poetic.”
Imbued with irrefutable energy and a lifetime of artistry, Move Like This marks a model addition to The Cars’ continuum, their exuberant electro-powered pop having long since become the very quintessence of modern rock ‘n’ roll.
“Without wanting to brag, I think our music has held up pretty darn well,” Hawkes says of the band’s legacy. “I’m always surprised and moved when I hear other musicians say how they’ve been influenced by The Cars. I’m very grateful for that.”
“Sometimes people will say, ‘So-and-So’s song sounds like The Cars,’” says Ocasek, “and I go, ‘Really?’ I think if you have a keyboard playing a counterline and there’s a quirky kind of vocal and some eighth notes, people will say it sounds like The Cars.”
Having come together solely for the purpose of making Move Like This, the band is now considering their next step. Live shows are on the table, though there’s little interest in hitting the road for a cash-in reunion tour. No matter what happens, Ocasek reckons the world has not heard the last of The Cars.