Shaking It Up — Again

The Cars' comeback album turns out to be just what we needed.

Photograph by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

Photograph by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

Despite their platinum status, the Cars haven’t exactly left fans pining for a reunion. Nerdy and aloof, Boston’s New Wave heroes aren’t beloved like Aerosmith or revered like the Pixies. And we already endured that best-forgotten New Cars project from a few years ago, which featured only the band’s keyboardist and guitarist.

So it’s quite a surprise that Move Like This ($14, out 5/10), the group’s first album with frontman Ric Ocasek in 24 years, turns out to be just what we needed. From the first song, “Blue Tip,” all the elements are there: blippy synths, jerky rhythms, Ocasek’s tuneful croak, and a huge riff that takes off in the chorus. After that it all sounds familiar — in a good way. The lead single, “Sad Song,” has those trademark sassy handclaps. Massive group vocals and economical guitar solos abound. Granted, the Cars’ main flaw — their awkward way with ballads — is still evident, but even those tracks (“Soon” and “Take Another Look”) do grow on you. The only missing piece is bassist-vocalist Ben Orr, who died of cancer in 2000.

While this album may not surpass the band’s classic records, it certainly holds its own. Listen to 1979’s Candy-O and Move Like This back to back, and the current sound is bigger, brawnier… turbocharged, even. That many of the new songs are as good as the old is welcome proof that the Cars are excellent at what they do — which is race through 10 tight, punchy tracks in 37 utterly re-listenable minutes. So far, it’s this year’s most unexpected victory lap.