Rolling On... The Cars, Solo and Group

(Appeared Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1997)

For the first time in many years, there's a glimmer of hope for fans of influential and popular rock band The Cars, who stopped recording nearly 10 years ago. The band's ex-members have stayed busy, with guitarist Elliot Easton anchoring a John Fogerty-less Credence Clearwater Revisited and bandleader Ric Ocasek producing an impressive list of modern rock acts, among other activity, but none of that was geared to the Cars' audience. Now, Ocasek has released his first solo album since 1993, a welcome return to form with a new guitar foundation, which may put The Cars' farewell _Door To Door_ album and Easton's reissued _Change No Change_ record -- both excellent and long overlooked -- in a new light as well. Like a Chrysler display in a shopping mall hallway, The Cars are in The Big Room, and the carpets in here will never be the same.

Ric Ocasek -- _Troublizing_ (Columbia, 1997)

After energizing bands like Bad Religion, Hole, and Weezer as their producer, Ric "Why The Long Face?" Ocasek set about revitalizing his solo career with _Troublizing_, capitalizing on his trademark vocalizing and the pulverizing post-punk gruff guitar growl of Brian Baker (from Bad Religion) and head Pumpkin Billy Corgan. Ocasek took his Cars keys with him, too: Greg Hawkes is again organizing the nuance and squeal characterizing Cars records, making _Troublizing_, with all its modernizing heaviness, a re-materializing and re-baptizing of the sound and style of The Cars.

Ocasek, realizing that shallower recent efforts were ostracizing his fans, finally shifted gears, emphasizing that it doesn't matter what he writes, as long as it is deep. His inspired cannibalizing of his past leads to Car-tunes free of bastardizing fluff, with "The Next Right Moment" the magnetizing winner every Cars album has, "Crashland Consequence" memorializing Easton's sonic sorcery, and "Society Trance" synthesizing the hypnotizing feel of "All Mixed Up" from cauterizing guitars capsizing among ambient keyboards.

Overall, _Troublizing_'s airy cheerlessness succeeds both in mobilizing extant Ocasek fans and galvanizing anyone else who thinks the recent denaturizing of modern rock has left radio too "lite". The only antagonizing aspect is Ocasek's failure at pasteurizing away a few pedestrian hooks, not a problem in the more appetizing Cars finale...

The Cars -- _Door To Door_ (Elektra, 1987)

Ambitiously poppy and post-punk, _Door To Door_ was generally seen as a disapointment at its release, which means that people generally missed the point. It wasn't what people expected of a Cars album, but it showed the vision that makes Ocasek one of today's most successful producers. Killer track "Strap Me In" is a huge, catchy rocker, every bit the equal of "You're All I've Got Tonight" or "Just What I Needed". "Door To Door" is a revved-up punky rocker that slams around with unexpected ferocity. The rest show diversity without weakness, from the quirky uptempo "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo" to the melancholy "Fine Line", the darker, moodier aggression of "Leave Or Stay" and "Double Trouble", and the hit "You Are The Girl" and other radio-ready gems. _Door To Door_ is ultimate Cars album in more ways than one, a deep, brilliant modern rock record ready for rediscovery ten years after its release. It is an even more compelling, more melodic ride than Ocasek's new _Troublizing_, demonstrating conclusively that The Cars' music is unstoppable.

Elliot Easton -- _Change No Change_ (Rhino, 1996)

The first ten tunes of this welcome reissue are the original album _Change No Change_, a stunning demonstration of Easton's encyclopedic command over every style of pop of the 60s and 70s, diverse, creative, and streamlined. Easton, with partner Jules Shear, gives us a new and slightly off-center songwriting voice, nothing we'd expect from the Cars and not much like any other album, either. "(Wearing Down) Like A Wheel" is a bit Cars-like with nice synth parts and high energy guitar, "I Want You" is a murky, funky stomp with near-rap vocals, but the classic pop of "Shayla", "(She Made It) New For Me" and other tracks really sets the tone for the album. College radio should love these cleverly- but not overly-produced tunes, with their jangly and slightly gruff feel and sweet but not syrupy vocal harmonies. Easton may not be a great singer, but he's more than enough a guitarist and songwriter to make up for it, making this highly recommended to Classic Rock and Alternative Rock fans alike.

The last five songs are from a previously-unreleased Easton project called Band Of Angels. Except for standout instrumental "Walk On Walden", dancing on Easton's shimmering acoustic guitar and Stan Lynch's tasty percussion, the rest feel a bit like Billy Squier or late 80s Bad Company (for better or worse), enjoyable but unspectacular pop.

Together, the fifteen tracks show Easton as a rare chameleon of a guitarist in the Jeff Beck mode, tone and note perfect on any type of pop tune, and easily able to extend beyond the Ocasek garage in which The Cars were kept.

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Eric Aaron can add "-zing" to any music review! He is a graduate student, guitarist for Ithaca modern-rock band The EFFECT, and sincerely thankful to everyone who takes time to read The Big Room. Happy Thanksgiving!


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