It’s not quite hell freezing over, but for years a new Cars album seemed as likely as the Eagles’ improbable 1994 reunion. For one, founding member and co-vocalist Ben Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. And when guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes reformed the band and toured in 2005, Ric Ocasek opted out, allowing Todd Rundgren to assume vocal duties for the regrettable project dubbed the New Cars.
One suspects renewed interest in the band has swayed Ocasek, who rejoins the Cars for their first studio album since 1987 and seventh overall, Move Like This. Over the past decade, leaders of the indie zeitgeist like the Strokes and LCD Soundsystem have unabashedly repurposed the Boston-born band’s candied power-pop to stunning effect. Ocasek had good reason to believe the 21st-century Cars could be relevant as opposed to a mere nostalgic relic.
Unfortunately, as first single “Sad Song” suggests, this new version of the Cars isn’t even interested in meeting listeners halfway between 2011 and 1983. Move Like This is more faded facsimile than vital update, relying on production tricks, i.e. a trunk load of synthesizers, that characterized the Cars’ dated, midperiod nadir. This despite the inclusion of au courant producer Jacknife Lee (Bloc Party, R.E.M.). Handclaps and squelching keyboards abound. Ocasek rarely registers any emotion beyond casual boredom.
The Cars have even thrown in not one, but two sleepy updates of their toxically earnest 1984 prom theme, “Drive,” with “Soon” and “Take Another Look.” The Cars are stuck in reverse. But there’s always the old hits.