George Starostin's Reviews



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<> (05.07.2005)

Pretty much on the money, GS, about the Cars in general. I agree with listing them as a "Class D" artist--in the grand scheme of things, they're a pretty minor act. A few things though... I think you went to extremes a bit much in the general evaluation giving them a 5/5 for 'listenability' and an 0/5 on 'resonance'. As you pointed out, the Cars really were formulaic--however, this isn't just in general style: Ric Ocasek was a very formulaic songwriter as well. For instance, notice how similar the choruses on "Good Times Roll" and "You're All I've Got Tonight" are--same key, same chords, extremely similar sounding. There are a lot of other examples also, especially when you throw his solo career into the mix. It's one thing for there to be a comforting familiarity to an artist's work, but in Ocasek's case, the predictablity does tend to get annoying and drain away any possible excitement, almost as if he's trying to play some kind of 'Name That Tune" game with us. It's extremely telling what I read in an interview a while ago where Ocasek said something along the lines of how all songs are essentially the same and that it's kinda just what's in between the lines that sets one song apart from another. I really don't think it's supposed to be that way--groups like Steely Dan prove you can make each song on an album an extremely distinctive composition, and it seems as if Ocasek realizes in the back of his mind he's a painfully limited songwriter but doesn't want to admit it. On the other side of the coin, the Cars do have quite a few tender/ affecting moments in their discography where they don't sound 'fake' or merely as if they're aiming for the charts--songs such as "It's All I Can Do", "Why Can't I Have You", "Go Away", "Fine Line", "Everything You Say", "Heartbeat City", and others back this up. Yes, I know that much has been made about how The Cars were 'cool and detached' and how that was their main schtick--certainly that's not without truth, but I think they earn at least one resonance point.


Mike DeFabio <> (12.02.2001)

I'm perfectly willing to agree with everything you said in general. I mean, who wants to put down the first Cars album? Not me! It's Just What I Needed, even though it's 'All Mixed Up'!

Really, the main reason I wrote this reader comment is because I just realized that the little guitar line in "My Best Friend's Girl" is taken directly from "I Will." Which isn't on Beatles For Sale. Just thought I'd clear that up.

John McFerrin <> (12.02.2001)

Hey, you hate lipstick too! Cool, I'm not the only one!

Rich Bunnell <> (13.02.2001)

A terrific, fun album - it's true that there's not much to it besides the radio hits, but that's not really a problem when the radio hits take up 2/3 of the album. No matter how many times "Just What I Needed" gets played on the radio, it will still be undeniably one of the catchiest songs ever written. "Moving In Stereo" is the best song on the album, but like Brian Burks said on his page, it's kind of hard to listen to that song in the same light after you've seen Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Plus, the sound, though keyboardy, still has enough dense, rockish charm to make the songs sound better than almost anything the band released from this point on. 9/10

Peter Castanos <> (15.05.2002)

Hi George

I agree with you about the guitar line in 'Best Friends Girl' sounding like something from Beatles For Sale (probably 'Honey Don't'). That's because it's in a Carl Perkins rockabilly style and George was heavily into his Carl Perkins guitar phase at the time of Beatles For Sale.

<> (19.04.2003)

A real good non cranky review of a very successful non sixties band. Cool, and not one cheesy, dreck, vomit inducing, or suckjob to be found anywhere. Even better. He does manage to squeeze in another Kansas cheap shot. Yawn...bitter, party of one, your table is now ready. For the record, Kerry Livgren wasn't patriotic, he was religious. Get it right. I'm just having fun, good God calm down. Seriously, this album really could've been called The Cars Greatest Hits because just about every song on here was. Ric Ocasek penned all of them too by the way. Impressive. This album was really classified as New Wave, but I truly heard nothing but rock and roll. Guitars were at the forefront, not synthesizers (that would come later), and Ric's vocal style reminds one of Buddy Holly just slightly. The one who had the most impressive voice though was bass player Ben Orr. Rest his soul, he was a very good singer taking the lead vocal on 'Bye Bye Love', 'Just What I Needed', and 'Moving In Stereo'/'All MIxed Up'. This is another very impressive debut, ranking up there with Boston's first album, and Chicago Transit Authority in terms of sales. It is a fun record, and extremely well written. Should be in everyone's collection who loves seventies rock.

Glenn Wiener <> (12.10.2003)

Amazing how fresh this debut was back in the late 70's.  Then the band would merely duplicate these results with weaker tunes. Nonetheless, this is one solid recording. 'Just What I Needed' has some great hooks around the chorus and 'Good Times Roll' features some cool rhythm guitar. 'Bye Bye Love' and 'Your All I Got Tonight' are other noteworthy tracks. Although Candy O is a decent follow up, this is the only essential CD for your collection.


Rich Bunnell <> (23.10.2000)

I'm surprised that you got to this one before the debut album - were you drawn to it first by the chick on the cover? I'm with you there. As for the album itself (oh yeah, that) it's pretty good, but it really annoys me that they took the dense, garage-y sound of the debut and replaced it with this really thin keyboard-heavy sound. A lot of the songs are a lot better than the production makes them sound (the title track, especially). I'm not sure why I have to offer an argument as to why "Let's Go" is the best song on the album, just IS. Sorry, but that song is just the epitome of the Cars for me, and it's the only spot on the album not affected by the aforementioned thin production. "It's All I Can Do" is nice and bubbly too, and I like "Dangerous Type" also, even though it's basically just a double ripoff of "Bang A Gong" and "Psycho Killer." The rest is catchy, and none of it's BAD, per se, but it tends to sound a little two much like thin dinky generic new wave filler in spots. I'd give it a 7, and I'd also like to state that "Got A Lot On My Head" is an awesome song.

Glenn Wiener <> (23.10.2000)

You've got the right idea on here. Most of the songs jsut blend and blur that they all seem pretty good. The title track stands out a little but otherwise the band sticks to a formula and it basically works.

Bob Josef <> (26.10.2000)

I'm surprised, being a Roxy Music connoisseur, that you overlook the Roxy elements in the Cars' music. They weren't entirely their own animal. As for Candy-O, it doesn't have as many easy hooks as the first album, but it definitely has its moments, the title track, "Let's Go." They, unfortunately, left off a slightly creepy B-side called "That's It" which is just as good as the rest of the album.

Of course, the lyrics have to be ignored, generally, when one is speaking of the Cars. Lyrics like "You've got wonderful eyes/And a risque mouth" are there only to provide Ocasek and Orr something to sing, not to tell stories or be particularly creative.

I just read the Benjamin Orr recently died of pancreatic cancer, at 53. He really had quite a voice (his solo album The Lace was also fine proff of that). Hard to realize now that the Cars are old enough for that...

Paul Watts <> (14.09.2005)

To add to the earlier comment, the cover of Candy-O (certainly a Roxy Music element in itself) sums up The Cars perfectly. You can see from the beginning that the babe reclining on the outline of a sports car isn't the genuine article, just a very good drawing, but she's so alluring anyway. So you look closer. The closer you look, the less is the substance. Even the most lithe supermodel doesn't have breasts that stand bolt upright when she's on her back. That's The Cars. Silicone implanted no-risk pop music in the Great American Tradition. Great music for engaged couples, and a fine throwaway entertainment, but ultimately completely lacking in substance.

Not to say I don't like these records. I'm familiar with the first three Cars albums, and all of them sounded fine last time I played them, but that was a very long time ago.


Bob Josef <> (07.03.2006)

Based on the first two singles ("Touch and Go," "Gimme Some Slack"), I never would have bought this album. I found them quite grating, awkward and mannered. But then my brother got the record for me as a Christmas present, and I discovered that the rest of the album was, suprisingly, much better. The group really took some chances here. I certainly enjoy the darker mood, the edgiest the Cars ever got. (Relative to other Cars product, of course -- you can't call an album with Greg Hawkes' dated, Atari-video-game bloops and bleeps edgy like the Velvet Underground or something.) The lyrics now jump from boppy teenage concerns to weirdness and alienation. The guitar parts ("Down Boys, in particular) seem more prominent in the mix. Unlike you, I actually enjoy the title track, with it's very offbeat (but this time, NOT annoying) intro leading into a driving synth-popper, complete with vocoder. My favorite is "Don't Tell Me Know," which manages to be catchy and ominous at the same time. Unlike the first album (which you STILL hear too much the radio all the time, almost 30 years on), this hasn't worn out its welcome yet. I totally agree with the 9. However, not a lot of people did -- the album didn't sell quite as much as the first two, and the critics totally trashed it. Because of the backlash (although I haven't heard much from the final album), the Cars never tried this much experimentation again, even though we got some fun music form them after this.


Rich Bunnell <> (27.01.2001)

Synthpop is a genre that can only work under a certain condition: it -has- to be well-produced. On most good synth-pop albums, the production -is- the album, putting the listener in awe not by the pure genius of the songwriting, but by the dazzling, clear, full studio sound. The afore-bashed Pet Shop Boys are a good example; much of their early albums don't really contain any (or many) interesting melodies, but they presented them so well that this fallacy was almost made up for. That's the main thing that bugs me about every Cars album between the debut and Heartbeat City-- there's no flesh, no bite. The production on here is more fleshed-out than on Candy-O and Panorama, granted, but the songs still sound lifeless and boring. The "Your Wildest Dreams" comparison is accurate, only most of these songs aren't nearly as infectious as that song - "Victim Of Love," for example. Pretty much the same sort of song, but much more dinky, plodding, and boring. "Cruiser" refreshingly shoves the guitars to the forefront, but they nearly ruin the song by dragging it out for five minutes without a good enough melody to merit that length. Come to think of it, why are all of the songs on this album so long?

NEVERTHELESS, I do like some of the songs - "Since You're Gone" is a fun, anthemic synth-march, and "I'm Not The One" is the perfection of the "brooding dark ballad" style that the band would cash in three years later with "Drive." As for the title track, I admit that it's really catchy, but I've just never cared for it. And another plus is that none of the songs are offensively bad, like on Panorama-- they kind of just sit in the background, bouncing along in their own little grit-free synthy world. I give the album a completely-average 5/10.

And I don't get the "influential" tag at all. It didn't blaze any trail for synthpop whatsoever - bands like Human League were already riding synthpop to the top of the charts in 1980. And the Cars weren't innovators in that they coupled synthpop with real guitars and drums - Duran Duran were doing the same thing (and with better results) at the exact same time. If anything, this is just an average album and a true product of its era, when bands were first discovering synths and pumping out dinky, half-assed albums (ala early-'80s Queen) thinking that the general public wouldn't notice. That said, it's obvious that this album (and any other Cars album, for that matter) wasn't meant to have any serious meaning, so if you enjoy it, I have no gripe. I just don't find it very captivating, myself.

Richard C. Dickison <> (16.02.2001)

Rich! No! not Duran Duran, please not THEM! That band was just too precious for serious mention. I liked the Cars, In fact I followed their output from the first album on. I think if you follow them through you will catch how and why the (New Wave) thing crashed. The first two albums are a wonderfully catchy re-working of the early sixties sound. You see the band using, yes using, a really interesting and unique formula to create a pretty exciting sound. They pay a great deal of hommage to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Then they add that whole Bowie/Eno catch phrases slapped together for lyrics thing complete with an attempt at Bowie's vocals. You can't fault them for their taste. You can't fault them for their ability. You can't help but admire the whole 'were a party band' approach, it worked.

Until, Panorama, MAN was that an attempt at something more or what. Such the bomb, lost the whole catchy thing and went over board on the Bowie artistic style at all cost idea. They made it all back with Shake It Up, but the thrill was deffinately gone by then.

Shake It Up, has the hooks and sends them to you with a really catchy beat. But, not the same unique flavor found earlier. They were a fun band though, so you won't catch me getting snide about em losing it at the (HeartBeat City) end there. I enjoyed the fun party music while it lasted.

Bob Josef <> (26.10.2002)

Panorama was too dark and weird for just about everybody, so the Cars went back to the tried and true of their first two albums. And although, there are some interesting flourishes (the Buddy Holly-like drumming on "Maybe, Baby," for instance), there really isn't a whole lot new here. It's the Cars sticking to their standard formula -- catchy synth riffs, fun but not particularly deep lyrics, etc. Which means, if you like the Cars, you'll like it, if you don't you won't.

My favorite track here is "A Dream Away," which I hear very differently from you. I find the track actually approaching something like warmth and optimism. Ric Ocasek actually expressing real emotion? You heard it here first!

Richard Bendell <> (12.06.2003)

Hi George,

Just came across your site and found your commentary quite insightful and amazingly well balanced.

To throw my 2 cents worth in, I do enjoy The Cars a great deal but currently own only Heartbeat City as well as their Greatest hits and the huge double cd compilation. I am considering purchasing Shake It Up in the future if only for what I am becoming convinced is my favourite Cars song of all, namely, 'A Dream Away'.

It was inexplicably ommitted from the double cd which includes a number of nearly unbearable tunes. If only "A Dream Away" had made the track listing here it would be perfect.

I've owned a cassette tape copy of this song from 1985 and recently rediscovered it on Yahoo's Launchcast radio. I find this tune incredibly captivating and intriguing and have found that it is passing my ultimate test which is the incredibly rare time when I hear the same song again and again and never seem to tire of it.

As a comparison others on my unofficial (and still incomplete) Favourite Repeat List include:

"Night and Day" by U2

"How Soon is Now" by The Smiths

"Big Log" and "In the Mood" by Robert Plant

"Lonely in Your Nightmare" and "So Long Suicide" by Duran Duran

"It's a Mistake" by Men at Work

"Passion of Love" and "Melody" by Boys Brigade

"Live to Tell" by Madonna

"I only have Eyes for You" by Timothy B. Schmit

"Trick of the Night" by Bananarama

"When the Lights go Out" and "I Could Show You How" by Naked Eyes

"Dreaming in Metaphors" and "Prayer for the Dying" by Seal

"My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison

"Airwaves" and "I Scare Myself" by Thomas Dolby

An eclectic listing to be sure but, in general, I find songs that can be described as a bit haunting or full of mood and atmosphere to be the most memorable.

Again find something very rhythmic, even a bit magical about the pace and lyrics by Ocasek in "A Dream Away" as witnessed by this verse:

there's a cheetah walkin' high liquid whispers, dragonfly charleston booties on painted toes drop the knot ivory soul

(interesting note... I always thought he said drop the knot, I've re-sold)

This is the song for me amongst all their best known hits but I consider other obscure Car's songs such as "Strap me in" or "Wound up on you" quite high as well. Overall, a super band whose songs do not sound dated to me even 25 years later and who, I'm sure, had another great album or two to share with us.


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