MUSIC REVIEW | The Cars – The Cars (1978)


The Cars is one of those bands I’ve dismissed out of hand for decades now. For some reason, they have always been lumped in with the kind of generic 80s corporate rock that I’ve never seen any value in. But over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more reverence for the band, and especially for singer, song writer, guitarist, Ric Ocasek. Enough reverence to make me think I should see what all the fuss is about. So I’m starting where they did, with their self titled debut.

Let the Good Times Roll is the kind of soft guitar, soft synth combo that makes me think I’m about to have all of my worst preconceptions of The Cars confirmed. But when the familiar My Best Friend’s Girl kicks in with a similar dynamic, I had the opposite reaction. I assume it was hit at the time, because despite its release date being two years before I was born, I know this song. This is probably the first time I’ve consciously listened to it and seen it as more than standard radio fare, or background white noise. And that added attention also lead to added appreciation.

Things take a turn for the bombastic on Just What I Needed and it’s a sound The Cars know how to get the most from. The big guitar blasts of the intro, into Ocasek’s almost monotone verses, into the synth-tastic bridge, into the anthemic chorus, and I realise this is another song I’ve heard before and kind of know. It’s a lot of 80s clichés, that combine to make something better than they should. The fact that it sounds like 80s clichés, but was released in 1978 probably says a lot about the influence The Cars the band, and The Cars the album, had on the music world at this time.

Then there’s the almost glam rock goofiness of I’m In Touch With Your World. If someone told me that this was XTC or Adam and the Ants, I’d believe them. It’s not a bad song, I’d go so far as to say it’s a good song. It’s just got an almost goofy feel that I wasn’t really in the mood for after the setup of the songs that come before. I think I even heard a slide whistle. But it’s immediately made up for with Don’t Cha Stop, which keeps that playful, goofy vibe, but makes something much more substantial with it, including The Cars’ first wailing guitar solo, which couldn’t have come soon enough.

The guitar heavy sound continues with You’re All I’ve Got Tonight and Bye Bye Love, and it’s the difference between me kind of seeing why other people like this band even if it’s not my thing, and me actively getting on board with this band and their decades of devoted fans.

Even at its corniest, or what I would usually see as corny, The Cars somehow manages to transcend the cliches that their imitators ruined over years of pumping out cheap knock offs. If I was to break down The Cars’ sound to its raw ingredients, it would sound like a list of everything I hate about mains stream80s “rock”. But it’s how they use those ingredients that makes The Cars sound a part of its time, and timeless all at once, 35 years after it was first let loose upon the world.

The Cars

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