Sound — 7
For those just tuning in, The Cars were a Boston based New Wave band formed in 1977 out of the same lineup that was a band called Cap'N' Swing. They had a hit first record with a little more than half the album being radio singles with some level of "hit" to them and took off, fell down, and got up again from the ashes of a guitar heavy new wave band to be a harder hitting variant of '80s pop band...
By now, the band had been around 10 years, it's 1987, Hair Metal is on it's way in, and quirky new wave - The Cars included, are on a fast track to becoming "orthodontist office" music, but despite this common misconception about their final album with the original lineup - Door to Door - they actually hit harder here than they have ever, and also get lighter than they ever have. Door to Door's greatest strength is the wide dynamics between the tracks.
Let's take a look at The Cars - member by member, as they are in 1987...
Ric Ocasek - The beanpole lead vocalist, seems Ric shed his corporate-like suit and tie aesthetic of the last album for a look more suited to the NYC scene, and by this point, The Cars were sort of spreading out and doing their own thing. By this point, Ric Ocasek had now been a talent scout, producer, and so fourth for almost 7 years - and this is Ric's debut producing The Cars. On this Record, Ric sounds more like how he does these days, best singing chops ever thus far, and guitar-wise, Ric is turning ultra-versitile from playing acoustic (Everything You Say, Wound up on You), using his classic clicky 8th note Jazzmaster thing on "You are the Girl," or the fat SG + Marshall chunk of "Double Trouble" or "Strap Me In." Ric was also often seen playing a black CBS Fender Stratocaster around this time as well. Amplification was fully Marshall by this point.
Benjamin Orr - Our blonde Hearthrob bassist and singer, just got done making a solo album with his girlfriend Diane Grey Page the previous year (The Lace). At this point it seems Benjamin found his favorite gear goings on with the black Fender Precision Bass he started using on the previous album for most things. A mystery is did Benjamin Orr play guitar on this album? On the inner sleeve of vinyl copies of Door to Door, Benjamin Orr is seen holding a CBS era Fender Stratocaster in the vocal booth, though it could have just been one of those things he liked to do in the studio to be comfortable, I dunno. Benjamin, fresh off The Lace, has his voice in top form here with some of his best vocal performances yet.
Elliot Easton - Elliot Easton is still on a bit of a Telecaster binge, but for the tour, about 99.9% of the time he's seen playing a Burgundy Gibson Les Paul Jr. with a single P-90 for almost everything, with the occasional Tom Anderson for other songs. Elliot of course has gone full Marshall on this recording for a lot of the stuff, though I think he was using a Fender amp with a vibrato for the very warbly western tones on "Everything You Say"
Greg Hawkes - Greg Hawkes has by this point moved to using Digital synthesizers from the analog stuff he used on the earlier albums. Actually, the keyboard sound is another thing that brings The Cars into their late 80's sound, lots of atmospheric pop synth pads and layers here and there. Sure the MiniKorg 700S and others are still around here and there, but most of it is a lot of tubular bells and Yamaha DX7 type sounds. Also, Greg confused the ever loving heck out of me when I first listened to this album - "Fine Line" features a guitar solo that's actually Greg Hawkes playing a E.Guitar setting on one of his digital synths... something that took me 20 years to figure out, setting an example that one can be EXTREMELY expressive using a synthesizer. I swear, if Today's EDM groups wanted to get some soul - they should pop open a few Cars records and take some notes from Greg Hawkes, especially on this album.
David Robinson - Still doing his art direction thing, but once again, lots of programmed drums, though I read somewhere he, not really fought, but had to push a bit to put more acoustic drums on this album - which may have had a hand in why they split up after this album.
Overall, this era of The Cars album-wise did not really represent the group as well as their lives shows from this era did. By god, all of these songs sounded harder, meaner, and tighter live, but in the studio they seem to feel a bit more like that final release of a major movie franchise that has lost it's steam because the production was shot over to a new production team who never watched the first lot.
That said, overall, I love Door to Door's sound - it is quite dated (for the most part) because it FEELS like 1987 when you listen to it, takes me back to Saturday Mornings watching cartoons, Atari 2600 fun is back under $50 bux, everything becoming slick and peaceful in society. It was a good album, and it was a good time for them to take a break even as much as I love their work. But there's just something, I dunno, missing in this album that was present in other work. Something not quite right I can't quite put my finger on.
While I do mention dynamics, it does seem less focus on tone by the band was put into this album than the previous, seems 2 elements stick in each song, digital synths (ie Yamaha DX7) and Marshall driven guitars, even on songs where it would not fit, but it's made up for by the dynamic - it's sort of like The Cars decided to try an approach of using the same few sounds on aa many different styles that suit them as possible here.
Lyrics — 8
Door to Door is unique in that two of it's songs were already 10 years old by the time this album was made - "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo," and the opener "Leave or Stay" are both from 1977, and were on "The Cars Anthology" released in 1996 in their original form like they would have sounded had they wound up on the FIRST record and not the last.
"Leave or Stay" - Ric Ocasek - Kicks off with dreamy sounding digital synths, giving a vibe like we're watching Ric roam around some chick (Paulina?)'s apartment looking through magazines and raiding the fridge for milk. That said, it really showcases how they took the sound from the single from their "Greatest Hits" album and evolved it just a little bit. The arrangement is quite orchestral compared to the 1977 original off the Anthology, almost like they mixed the Heartbeat City and Panorama approaches here.
"You Are the Girl" - Ric Ocasek - The closest thing I could associate this song with is a cross between Shake It Up's "I'm Not the One" with "Since I Held you" off of Candy-O. It's got the signature late eighties DX7 tubular bell synths kicking it off, with Ric Ocasek doing the Cars signature "clickety 8ths" ala Jazzmaster in the background, with Elliot playing us a very soulful solo midway through from Easton. The song seems to be about the mixed signals the opposite sex gives us, that's my take on it - but to quote a Cars song I've not mentioned yet from their early catalog - take what you want, because that's how Ric Ocasek wants it. This was one of three videos made for this album as well - this one being sort of a Sci Fi B movie type thing full of alien girls on a space ship, and of course Elliot has a Telecaster straight out of Emmett L. Brown's lab in the video, LOL.
"Double Trouble" - Benjamin Orr - Benjamin brings us one of the HARDEST songs The Cars ever did up to this point. The guitars - a dual Gibson/Marshall assault of classic order, grind away. Elliot does a nice feedback drenched solo, while Benjamin describes this troublesome lady.
"Fine Line" - Ric Ocasek - Now here's an interesting jump from new wave, to pop, to borderline hard rock, now we are in an almost JAZZY atmosphere, complete with Elliot Easton doing some sonically witty George Benson-like approaches, Ric Ocasek singing probably the best he ever has on any album up to this point. I always thought they could have done a pretty kick ass video with Ric Ocasek as a detective - it has that sort of vibe, like looking for clues through the big city. The song itself is very loose, has a very scholarly digital organ driven sound, and of course, Greg Hawkes plays probably one of the best Synth solos I've ever heard using a guitar parth - enough so for nearly 20 years of my playing guitar, I though that was Elliot Easton playing with some weird distortion pedal, till I saw a live clip of The Cars doing this live in 1987 - and there was spotlight on Greg during the solo, using the pitch bend wheel. I swear, this was probably the sort of thing that would have scared the pants off some guitarists in '87 because Greg was on the level of guitar soloing soulfulness here - ON A KEYBOARD! EDM synth guys, drop your samples and take note!
"Everything You Say" - Benjamin Orr - Admittedly I've read Prindle's record reviews and thinking back to his review of this makes me laugh..."BENJAMAIN! WTF are you doing in my cornfield?" This is a late '80s country song done with that Carsy twist, and it's very interesting because Elliot Easton now had an opportunity to let some of that Bakersfield country influence fly with a New Wave twist with heavily tremoloed Telecaster in tow. Ric plays an acoustic on this song, and I'm almost wondering if Benny 11-Letters secretly dubbed in his own guitar track... the chord he IS holding on the inner sleeve is one from this song. Meahwhile, Greg Hawkes is the guy at the gas station, but instead of talking about UFO's, he's the one sending them out, LOL. For the most part, it's a love ballad, but orchestration wise, an interesting one.
"Ta Ta Wayo Wayo" - Ric Ocasek - This is the other 1977 revamp, pretty much does a great job of sounding like a big city beach circa 1987. Ric did once mention his favorite season is Summer. Ta Ta Wayo Wayo rocks pretty hard but it becomes kind of obvious this was kind of early in their career because the lyrics are so much more surface based compared to their later works including others on this album. Elliot kind of stretches out solo-wise on this one.
"Strap Me In" - Ric Ocasek - ah yes, the classic cars Automotive double entendre song. I'm pretty sure you can figure this one out, unlike a lot of the others like Drive, Cruiser, or the lines of Double Life. This is another one that rocks hard with big, thick guitars, but it's more sweeping and dramatic to Double Trouble's hard-edged sledgehammer. Strangely, I've listened to live versions of this and they were not as hard edged as their albums.
"Coming up You" - Benjamin Orr - This is one of the songs that had me give this one a 7. It sounds more like a reject from The Lace than an actual Cars record song. It sort of drips along with this computer geek synth line, seemingly inane clicky guitar in the background here and there, and the word choices are not the best, but I find it still fun once in awhile when I'm in the mood.
"Wound Up On You" - Ric Ocasek - Elliot Easton dons an acoustic guitar on this one, and it sounds like something that could have been on Ric's solo record the previous year. This is possibly one of the softest of The Cars catalog, but I like it, it's got a good place as "kick back and chill" music.
"Go Away" - Benjamin Orr - This song is almost ahead of it's time, it's got some of that modern world/EDM vibe to it sonically because it's almost all keyboard driven with a buzzy/arpeggiated guitar line from Easton. It's got a bit of a dramatic feel, and Benjamin gives another great vocal performance here (like I said, he sounds like he's top of his game here - where he pretty much stuck till the end). The song whisps along on a heavenly breeze of heavily reverbed tubular bells, and signature cars clickety 8th notes into...
"Door to Door" - Ric Ocasek - A sudden 180 from soft, heavenly, dramatic, keeping the dramatic bit but flipping it to borderline metal or even grunge here before Grunge even was a thing, including a Elliot Easton guitar solo that would make Kurt Cobain smile. The socially conscious lyrics about all the issues of the human world in 1987 (still quite valid today), Ric Ocasek's strangely deadpan but obviously troubled delivery, and a feeling like The Cars are giving it one last hurrah before the end "we're gonna run the motor till it pops" sort of vibe ends the album in a nifty way that was sort of foretelling of the end.
Ben and Ric are both on the top of their singing game on this album, no surprise, Benjamin made The Lace the year before, and Ric already had 3-4 solo records under his belt at this point in his career.
The backing vocals are even more different than ever because gone is Roy Thomas Baker's wall of vocals, or the singular thing of Mutt's production on HBC, but here, they sort of mixed the approaches and it works giving a slight organic feel to something that feels very tight and strong. Overall, I give it an 8, though some lyrics are not as strong as others, and for a hardcore Cars fan like me there's a bit of a bittersweetness in the air because it feels a bit like "this is the last time out (for awhile at least)" to it.
Overall Impression — 7
Compared to the other records, "Door to Door" is last in line, and not a bad last I'll say. Compared to stuff like the first three especially, it sounds dated, same compared to "Shake It Up" or "Heartbeat City," but this could be that it's time to return has not actually come in full force yet.
Compared to other artists at the time, I would have put The Cars in a lineup with Simple Minds, Hall & Oates around this time, and maybe at the hardest Cutting Crew. This was sort of the road ALL New wave acts were going down at that time before they would either join other scenes from the '90s onward. On tour in 1988, The Cars would split up, it was not a fight, or dramatic or anything, they just decided it was time for The Cars to rest for awhile at the very least - and so everyone went off to do their own things...
- Ric Ocasek would go on to continue his solo career, put out artwork, poetry, and prose, marry model Paulina Porzikova, and continue to talent scout for record labels and produce acts, the best known being Weezer's first "Blue Album" in 1995.
- Benjamin Orr continued to play the adult-contemporary scene as a solo act, later forming the band Orr in 1997, and later joining an all-star group in the late '90s/early 2000's called Big People before sadly passing away from Pancreatic Cancer in October 2000 (RIP) whilst still performing right up to the end.
- Elliot Easton eventually joined Creedence Clearwater Revisited in the '90s, as well as forming his own group, Elliot Easton's Tiki God's (which at that point was just Elliot) whom recorded a guitar instrumental called "Monte Carlo Nights" from the Quentin Tarantino movie "Jackie Brown" in 1997. He would go on to form "The New Cars" in 2006 with Todd Rundgren and members of The Tubes, and later rejoin for The Cars most recent album (as of Febuary 2017) Move Like This in 2011.
- Greg Hawkes continued to perform and play, but most notably took up Ukelele and recorded a whole CD of Beatles songs done on Ukelele. He also would moonlight on various act's CD's, and then rejoined Cars-mate Elliot Easton to form The New Cars in '06, and return once again to fill Benjamin's shoes on bass for "Move Like This."
- David Robinson spent some time as an art collector and running a restaurant before coming back to music for "Move Like This" in 2011.
What I love about this album? Well, the fact that The Cars show a total dynamic range and cast of abilities they never have shown before ranging from a almost Smooth Jazz-like style to bordering on something that would hav been big five or six years later. I really think if The Cars had soldiered on they could have possibly taken the style used on the Title track here and carried the band on into the '90s with that and remained relevant - a sure fire sign that Ric and co were looking to the future as much as the past and no better example than the title track.
What I don't like is the kind of dark, seemingly troubled - as thin as it may be - atmosphere. But that could just be the inner fan in me knowing this would be the last Cars record with original work during it's actual time of vintage with Benjamin Orr on bass and vocals.
All in all, I consider "Door to Door" to be a "Time Piece" of the late '80s that never got the recognition it deserved, even with a total rating of seven, it stands up pretty well though some elements may seem dated. That said, they performed some of the BEST live shows they ever did at this point in their careers with regards to this band - check out some of the D2D era bootlegs and things like "Unlocked" or what's been uploaded to YouTube, it's like they unlocked - pun not intended - the whole gamut of Cars music-tech all at once creating a very thick sonic atmosphere that could transport the whole venue wherever te music should take it. Moving in Stereo in this era was a real treat.
Stolen or Lost? Not likely, still have it on Digital, Record, and somewhere at mom's house is my old cassette copy I had since high school (which survived someone's passenger side view mirror smacking the walkman I was listening to it on off my hip, breaking the Door - but hey, it STILL worked afterward - walkman and all). I'd recommend this one more for the hardcore Cars fan than the casual listener though, because I feel it takes some knowledge of the band on a deeper level to appreciate what this album is about.