- - Monday, May 9, 2011

Move Like This

The Cars

Concord Music

During the first leg of their career, the Cars were everything their name suggested. Sleekly packaged and built for speed, they released six albums in nine years, carving out a unique sound that combined the trappings of pop music - hand claps, buoyant choruses, guitar riffs that any tone-deaf listener could walk away humming - with the robotic, mechanical presence of synthesizers.

Songs from their first two albums helped form the bedrock of classic-rock radio. The avant-garde music videos for “Magic” and “You Might Think” became staples of MTV’s early days. The Cars stalled out in 1988, though, and wound up sitting idle for than two decades.

Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer during the interim, which means “Move Like This” - the band’s first album since 1987 - doesn’t signify an “official” reunion. It’s the closest we’re ever going to get, though, and the Cars honor their fallen bandmate by sounding … well, by sounding exactly like the Cars. “Move Like This” is eerily similar to the band’s early work, proving that a 24-year gap between albums doesn’t necessarily kill the magic between band mates.

A quarter century is a lifetime in the music industry. Even so, the Cars’ mixture of new wave and protopunk - a sound that was omnipresent during the Carter and Reagan administrations - has returned to the mainstream in recent years, making “Move Like This” a close cousin to albums by the Strokes and the Killers. The Cars leave all their vintage moves intact, from the palm-muted guitar chords to hiccupping vocals, and look modern as a result.

Returning fans won’t have much trouble linking these new tunes to their ancestors. “Soon” is a 21st century retread of “Drive,” and “Sad Song” revisits the familiar hand claps that filled “My Best Friend’s Girl.” “Blue Tip,” with its insistent bass and zippy keyboard lines, would have sounded just as appropriate on 1984’s “Heartbeat City.” Rarely does “Move Like This” feel like mimicry, though, and the Cars sound as though they’re simply picking up where they left off.

Kudos to Ric Ocasek, who handles all the vocals this time around, for steering this vehicle in the right direction. Even though his solo career never really took off, he’s never been far from the mainstream, having served on Elektra Records’ A&R team and produced Weezer’s two best-selling albums. Here, he proves that 24 years haven’t weathered his vocals or his songwriting chops.

Still, recording a comeback album can be a tricky thing. Do you throw a bone to your longtime listeners? Do you rope in new fans? Or, fueled by the thrill of returning to a recording studio after a lengthy break, do you satisfy yourselves first and foremost? “Move Like This” is one of those rare albums that operates on all fronts. There’s some fluff here, but the misguided songs simply float into the ether. What sticks around is a handful of weighty pop/rock tunes - “Drag On Forever,” “Sad Song,” “Blue Tip” - which form the foundation for a confident, solid return. Let the good times roll, fellas.

‘Idol’ shines spotlight on judges

“American Idol” is about to wrap up its best season in recent memory, with a finale scheduled for May 26. As always, the champion will receive a record contract. The real winners, though, may be judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, both of whom have rejuvenated their own careers with their time on the show.

J.Lo’s current single, “On the Floor,” is her first Top 10 hit since 2002. Mr. Tyler, recently in danger of being sacked by his own Aerosmith band mates, also is returning to the charts. This month, he will release an autobiography and a highly anticipated solo single. Fans also can expect an Aerosmith performance during the “Idol” finale.

It has been years since “American Idol” produced a superstar on par with Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. Whether it regains its status as a musical launching pad remains to be seen. In the meantime, consider “Idol” the best defibrillator for formerly comatose careers.

Artists pay tribute to Buddy Holly

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