The Cars: The Elektra Years

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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The Cars
The Elektra Years 1978-1987
(Rhino)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It really shouldn’t have taken this long to get the music of Boston’s the Cars remastered and reissued in a relatively classy package. After all, this group almost singlehandedly combined punk, electronics and most importantly pop hooks to create music that had, and still has, immense critical and crossover appeal.  But now it’s finally here in this six disc clamshell box, perhaps a decade too late, the end result feels lackluster, rushed and slapped together without Rhino’s usual attention to detail.

It’s especially frustrating because a little over 10 years earlier the same label released 2005’s beautifully packaged 40 track Just What I Needed double disc that included previously unreleased early versions, remixes and demos of songs along with a booklet of rare photos and terrific liner notes that set a wonderful standard for compilation. Sadly none of that is here and although this gets an extra star for its crisply remastered audio (by frontman Ric Ocasek), the lack of ANY additional material and the omission of the band’s final single “Tonight She Comes” (first included on their initial Greatest Hits release), makes this a huge missed opportunity. No extra tracks, live items, 12” remixes, photos, notes or anything to show the importance of the Cars in the history of rock and roll is an inexcusable lapse, especially for a non-budget package of this type.

Since this music has been available for decades, only diehards who need moderately improved sound are likely to spring again for a set that doesn’t offer anything other than the original, slightly modified gatefold cover art for Heartbeat City as an enticement. But, if you are new to the Cars and want a one-stop way to acquire all their albums — especially since the deep cuts were often some of their best songs — this is worth your attention and cash.

Few bands of their ’80s era exploded out of the gate with a debut boasting three radio hits then followed that achievement with further releases that refined and expanded their vision. Those attracted by the Cars’ edgier approach will find the more offbeat tendencies of Panorama and Candy-O best reflect that side of the group. Listeners more attuned to the quintet’s pop proclivities can cozy up to Shake It Up and especially Heartbeat City, the latter featuring four Top 20 hits including the exquisite ballad “Drive,” arguably bassist/occasional singer Ben Orr’s finest moment. The 1987 labored swan song Door to Door remains a disappointing exit for this band’s glory days, but even that has charms worth rediscovering  nearly 30 years and about a half dozen spotty Rick Ocasek albums later.

Still, the Cars deserve a superior, more comprehensive boxed overview that at this late stage, doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Sean Watkins

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