Sound — 8
Another Cars review time. If you are just joining my reviews on this band, The Cars are a new wave band formed in Boston MA in the mid seventies with various local musicians from the scene and nearby Berklee University. In this review, I am covering their fourth album - and return to the mainstream charts: "Shake It Up."
Shake it Up was a start of the newer, more "synthy" sound The Cars would adopt for awhile in the early '80s - more of a synth-pop related sound but with more guitars than the usual. While the previous release, "Panorama," was jagged and angular, Shake It Up was interesting in that their singles from this album both set the stage for the future and tethered to their retro kitsch past but a little less so in reference to the latter.
Anyway, lineup time... here's everyone and everything being used this go out...
Ric Ocasek - Main songwriter, singer of the crazier tracks, and rhythm guitarist. During this period Ric Ocasek was claiming his 1974 Fender Jazzmaster - repainted pink and setup with a (supposedly) re-radiused fingerboard and Gibson Harmonica bridge was his favorite guitar, it's all over this album and gets a lot of use on the Friday's TV show in support for the album, as well as appears a bunch in the music video for the single "Since You're Gone." Ric's vocals this go out take on a more melodic approach and seems a bit... eh... higher pitched than previous, with a more pronounced treble. He also brings some mock-Bob-Dylan into his singing on the lead-in track. By this time, Ric repainted his SG black with red pinstripes, got another 61' Les Paul SG that he still uses to this day, some Les Paul Double Cutaways, a Fender Stratocaster, and the Jaguar used on the previous tour for the previous album.
Benjamin Orr - The other singer, bassist, and the heart throb that brings all the girls in. He also apparently plays some bass synthesizer on this album via a ARP unit of some kind (he used it on Fridays). Benjamin, whilst sticking with his Active Precision basses from Panorama, his new favorite is the Steinberger, which was mentioned in Musician Magazine at the time to irk him a little because finding proper double-ball-end replacement strings for it was incredibly difficult at this time. For the tour Benjamin received a pink Precision bass to match Ric Ocasek's Jazzmaster (obviously the central guitar of this tour) - and other Cars members ALSO got pink matching Fender guitars.
Elliot Easton - Backing vocals and "Wah Wah Cacaphone" to quote his intro from "The Cars Unlocked" DVD. Elliot's the southpaw lead guitarist with an armada of guitars, and this album is no exception - he uses a Les Paul on "Since You're Gone" - the solo of which was done by taping off five of all six strings, turning the monitors up in the control room, and emulating a E-bow via that method for the solo. For Shake It Up and the end of Cruiser he uses a Tokai/Greco or some other Japanese Stratocaster copy he never disclosed the name of. He uses a Fender Lead II on Cruiser, a Gibson ES-355 Stereo on "I'm Not the One," a Paisely Telecaster and more Les Paul and possibly a Flying V all over the place. Elliot uses a lot of guitars, amps, and effects, and at this point it becomes incredibly hard to track everything he's using as it varies so much I'd write a article just as long as this review on everything he ever used to record this and that. For the tour, Elliot Easton got a pink Fender Stratocaster he's seen playing on Friday's. Also, this is the first cars album in 2 records to have an acoustic, and it's in a very unlikely place - on the uneasy ballad "This Could Be Love" - there's Elliot jangling away on a very early Piezo Transducer equipped Takamine.
Greg Hawkes - Backup vocals, keyboardist, and on tour guitarist and sax player. Greg Hawkes added a bunch more keyboards to his setup including a Moog Source, and some early Roland Juno/Jupiter stuff possibly (though it's shard to tell, he's still using a LOT of MiniKorg 700S on this album). The Yamaha CP-30 is gone, a Korg VL-tone is used for some things, and he used a Hammond B3 Organ at one point during the album's production IIRC. On tour - for the older songs "Take What You Want" and "Hotel Queenie" - both non-album tracks from the first 2-3 release eras, Greg was given a pink Fender Telecaster.
David Robinson - David Robinson is back. I dunno much of what he used at this point, but I do know he's still got the syn drums, linn drums - but overall, David is at his most organic on this album sound-wise.
The whole thing was reportedly recorded at The Cars personal recording studio - Synchro Sound - in Boston, and this would be the LAST album produced by Queen alumni Roy Thomas Baker.
This album is a bit more sparse and "New Wave" than any of the previous releases, also, the mixing is far less headphone oriented and more oriented to the regular listening audience. However, I always felt this album was missing "something", I just could not place what that "something" is. It's also very glossy - it fits the vibe of the times well. It also is the last of their albums I'd consider a bit "edgy" or "dangerous" sounding. You can tell at this point The Cars were starting to mature a bit stylistically. Some quirk was lost.
Lyrics — 8
Ric Ocasek's lyrics are just as "pick your own story" as they ever were, complete with the irony, offbeat humor, and quirkiness that made The Cars a special brand of rock poetry.
"Since You're Gone" - A fingerpicked casual rocker that seemingly follows the story of a lonely guy who seems not so sure he's lost/away from his woman or not. He misses her, but sHE'S so TrECHerESSSSS! (in a Dylanesque tone). The video involves a house where all of her stuff is moving out on it's own, which despite self moving vacuum cleaners, sleeping girlfriend turning into his guitar, and shoes walking around by themselves, the band seems rather unphased by this.
"Shake It Up" - fun little clickety 8th note rocker courtesy of a unidentified Japanese strat copy and a Fender Jazzmaster about going out and having fun. Had it's own video with Ric Ocasek - the Car Mechanic, gathering up a bunch of his buddies and some lovely ladies in disguise only to dance around in some funky afterlife space after a car wreck.
"I'm Not the One" - while "You Wear Those Eyes" set the tone on the previous record for ballads, this brings us closer to their landmark hit - Drive - this is a bittersweet, synth driven title about being the wrong person in a relationship with tasteful Elliot Easton lead lines throughout through an ES-355 stereo.
"Victim of Love" - aka "My Best Friend's Girl pt III" complete with clickety 8th note Jazzymaster rhythms and textured Telecaster leads singing of the inadvertentness of falling in love.
"Cruiser" - A hard rocking new wave track with Benjamin Orr on vocals, singing about various 50's automotive double entendres and stereotypes about the act of "cruising". Elliot Easton gives us a wall of probaby every guitar he had in the studio at the end, slamming the door with the only other spot on the album with a Stratocaster (probably the same copy guitar from Shake It Up) with a nice dive bomb.
"A Dream Away" - A dreamy, psychadelic wash of Roland GR-300 guitar synth. Possibly the most bizzarely Jam-Bandish The Cars have ever been. I think Ric's rocking the Jag on this one. Lots of lush synths courtesy of Elliot's GR300 and Greg Hawkes. It swishes and swirls like a dream does - very fitting.
"This Could Be Love" - now here's an odd one, it sounds like it would be some kind of ballad, but it's more like a ballad in the Disney Haunted Mansion than a ballad in a pretty pink night club. Against Benjamin Orr's vocals that sound like he's Elvira's brother, is Greg Hawks ominous bassline, Elliot's textural electric guitar, jangly Acoustic, and a Keyboard solo that sounds like Greg Hawkes punched a sequence of random notes into Microsoft BASIC on an old IBM PC and pressed F5 to let it rip when it came time for the solo (LOL). The keyboard solo is one of the craziest things I've heard in awhile - it's like a cross between a drugged out computer and a wood router singing using the wood it's cutting into. I love it.
"Think It Over" - one of the last two songs, borrowing titles from one of Ric Ocasek's big influences - Buddy Holley. This song is a poppy little number with a synth bass-line (like the previous track), and thrashy little gainy guitars. One of the few times Ric used a Fender (Jazzmaster) with distortion giving his rhythm guitar sound an interesting quality. Elliots got a nice little arpeggiated set of lines through the song that gives it that neon sock-hop malt-shop quality - one of the last, if not THE last time The Cars would give us that retro-50's/60's kitsch - which by that point was dying to full blown 80's New Wave.
"Maybe Baby" - The Cars go super dark here, the darned thing reminds me of that scene from Romancing the Stone where Colonel Zolo's hand gets bitten off by the Alligator and all hell breaks loose. David Robinson has his shining moment here with crazy can-drum fills banging all over the stereo spectrum like we're witnessing The Cars having an epic showdown with lord only knows who or what. Elliot also fills in the mood moreso with his feedback drenched cranky guitar solos while Ric sadly croons for his woman to come back...or is he!?!?
On this album, the formula of Ben = Ballad and Ric = Rambunctious changes a bit, but then Ric's vocal style has changed.
Gone is the Ric Ocasek of old, the low voiced, speak-sing, and now a early variant of who Ric Ocasek became as a vocalist is starting to rise. A Higher voiced guy who straight up sings but still with his signature quirks still in place. It makes me wonder if Ric got a vocal coach before this album or something.
Benjamin Orr is glorious as usual, albeit he's still got that vibe of being like a singing narrator for "Speed Racer" or something. Most of Ben's tracks would be just as fitting in an episode of "Transformers" as they would on MTV - he's the '80s to Ric's 60's leanings. Ben does more speak-singing here too - especially on "Think It Over - but this is the last we would hear of that.
I give it an 8, it's not my favorite album, it seems a little too "Bubblegum" for my tastes, but when I'm in the mood for a hit of Bubble Yum in my music, I always reach for Shake It Up.
Overall Impression — 8
I give it a good solid 8 overall, strong lyrics, strong music, but something here was missing, it feels like a "transitional" album here - the end of an era, the end of the retro-Kitschy, mostly guitar-driven version of The Cars whom roamed the stage in leather looking all pimp and badass, and transferring us into the skinny tie and suit art-collector New Wave Cars - where the technology and the old-school electric instrumentation became so entwined, it became an organized unit of sonic bliss rather than a rock machine of super-understated machismo attitude.
Standout tracks are "Cruiser," "This Could Be Love," "A Dream Away," "Think It Over" and "Maybe Baby." It's nice seeing The Cars manage to keep their signature style yet not lose their overall sound in the mix. I feel this album was an essential move toward their megahit - "Heartbeat City" - which is what I'll cover next, and is a whole different animal overall.
What I love about it is it's of it's time, it sounds like 1981-1983, it's got that pop gloss, sparse instrumentation (for The Cars at least), and tightness. The only thing is I can't help but sense there is something missing there on this record, it kind of feels a little more like "Beatitude" - which is Ric Ocasek's solo album (his first) from around the same time - I think it's just the sound Ric was into at the time.
I have it on vinyl and MP3, so it's not like it getting stolen or lost is very likely or easy. Plus Shake It Up was one of the better selling records so it's not as hard to get as say... "Panorama" or "Door to Door."