Sound: In the wake of their massively successful debut, the members of the Cars found themselves faced with the dubious task of a suitable follow-up that would spare them the dreaded sophomore jinx. Perhaps not surprisingly, based on their first album and the skills they displayed, they wasted no time and responded with Candy-O in less than a year. While branded as 'new wave', the Cars - creatively led by composer/singer/rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek - demonstrated the ability to successfully merge new wave stylings with classic rock style guitar riffs and intricate leads courtesy of Elliot Easton, thereby reaching out to a vaster (I.e. rock) audience than other so-tagged new wave artists such as XTC and Elvis Costello.
Ocasek brilliantly, and consistently, utilized his band mates' strengths providing the listener with a specific sound palate that providing the basis of the Cars' unique sound. Each number unfolds like a tapestry: Ocasek's and Easton's rhythm guitars are given ample support by keyboardist Greg Hawkes layered/atmospheric approach, and bassist Benjamin Orr and drummer David Robinson lock in tight with a solid, 4-on-the-floor approach; layered harmonies are followed up by a sparkling lead line courtesy of Easton.
01.Let's Go: power pop at it's finest, up tempo, multiple guitar lines, and a sing-along chorus make this an ideal opener.
02.Since I Held You: the album hits an introspective part with the next 2 numbers. On Since... Ocasek's yearning vocals are front and center, with the drums much more subdued compared to Let's Go. More emotional in vocal delivery, Hawkes' provides wonderful complimentary synth lines.
03.It's All I Can Do: the album's unsung masterpiece delivered by Orr in a vocal performance that foreshadows the band's later ubersmash Drive. A delicate opening with some nice, light drumming by Robinson and the song unfolds into a wonderful Beatles'-like singalong with spot-on harmony vocals; Easton provides a fine, melodic solo that has a beautiful, glassy tone.
04.Double Life: Ocasek shows that the band still has a foot firmly in the new-wave camp with this quirky number. Ocasek's delivery is properly new wave phlegmatic and the band supports in a non-dramatic fashion.
05.Shoo Be Doo: the band dips a toe in the experimental pond and comes up with a 1:38 slice of '80's psychedelia complete with heavily echoed vocals, guitars, and synth-based sound effects.
06.Candy-O: sort of an dark cousin to Let's Go, Candy-O has an angry tone delivered by Orr in a low, menacing manner. The lyrics spinning a tale of demand and allure rather than the up-beat camaraderie of Let's Go.
07.Night Spots: Hawkes' keyboard burblings and the interweaving bass and guitar lines make this genuine prog-pop; the chromatic pre-chorus lines are hallmarks of Ocasek's ability to create memorable hooks using a minimal amount of notes.
08.You Can't Hold On Too Long: another darker delivery by Orr, this is probably the weakest number of the album. A noticeable lack of dynamics on the chorus that could have used some biting Easton guitar.
09.Lust For Kicks: a funny and very unbusy arrangement shows Hawkes' dipping into his minimalist bag of tricks; a 4-note Farfisa organ lick predating the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack by 25 years.
10.Got A Lot On My Head: a driving rocker that allows Easton to shine; harmony vocals and darting keyboard lines makes this a picture-perfect example of the Cars at their finest.
11.Dangerous Type: a deceptively simple riff gives way to tandem guitar and bass licks and a sparkling, arpeggiated guitar to support the chorus. Typical Ocasek, the track has a vagueness to it and almost seems an odd choice to end the album on a mid-tempo note rather than the up-tempo Got A Lot On My Head. // 9
Lyrics: Ocasek was on an incredible roll with the first 2 Cars albums, and while he was lyrically contemporary, it really is an extension of early rock, a la Buddy Holly, where the lyrics covered, love, loneliness, mild despair, and youthful searching. Ocasek was a master of the non-cliche while able to create instantly recognizable lyrical hooks. Ocasek and Orr split lead vocal duties roughly 60-40 throughout the Cars' classic era, Ocasek shining with his nasally new wave style and Orr, with his deeper and smoother voice, able to project emotion on a grander level. // 9
Overall Impression: While branded as new wave, the Cars' musical abilities set them apart from their contemporaries that had - for the time being - taken the musical torch from the classic-arena-rock bands that had dominated the '70's musical landscape. While the acknowledged leader of the band was Ocasek, he had an incredible stable of talent that was able to translate his ideas and put paint on the musical canvas. Critics of the band were quick to note Ocasek's dominance, but were proven suitably wrong when his solo works - undeniably Cars-ian in nature - came nowhere near to the execution and popularity of his work with the band.
On the heels of their incredible debut, Candy-O established the Cars as a force on the contemporary music scene. While staying true to their sound and formula, the follow-up contained nothing that could be considered a derivative from their first album; they even were so brave as to include non-commercial/experimental material (Shoo Be Doo). The Cars stand as a true testament that musical skills can blur stylistic boundaries when the product is executed with humor, great skill, and originality. // 9