Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Cars

  • The Cars [Elektra, 1978] B+
  • Candy-O [Elektra, 1979] B+
  • Panorama [Elektra, 1980] B-
  • Shake It Up [Elektra, 1981] B
  • Heartbeat City [Elektra, 1984] B+
  • Greatest Hits [Elektra, 1985] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Cars [Elektra, 1978]
Ric Ocasek writes catchy, hardheaded-to-coldhearted songs eased by wryly rhapsodic touches, the playing is tight and tough, and it all sounds wonderful on the radio. But though on a cut-by-cut basis Roy Thomas Baker's production adds as much as it distracts, here's hoping the records get rawer. That accentuated detachment may feel like a Roxy Music move in the first flush of studio infatuation, but schlock it up a little and this band really could turn into an American Queen. B+

Candy-O [Elektra, 1979]
Hooks are mechanical by nature, but the affectlessness of these deserves special mention; only listeners who consider "alienation is the craze" a great insight will find much meaning here. On the other hand, only listeners who demand meaning in all things will find this useless. Cold and thin, shiny and hypnotic, it's what they do best--rock and roll that is definitely pop without a hint of cuteness. Which means that for them "alienation is the craze" may be a meaningful statement after all. B+

Panorama [Elektra, 1980]
The problem's not immersion in formula. The problem's not exhaustion of formula. The problem's boredom with formula. This is longer, slower, and denser as well as older, with lyrics that skirt social commentary and music that essays textural pretension. Its peaks are "Touch and Go" and "Up and Down." Savor the rhythm of those phrases, Ric, and grow no more. B-

Shake It Up [Elektra, 1981]
They've always cultivated a dark side--girls make boys want to end it all even after the boys have grown up. They've always basked in the shadow of Roxy Music, too. But they've never been so stylishly nightmarish--except for the title cut, even the fast ones don't aim for fun. Gary Numan--everywhere you turn these days, Gary Numan is sitting with the lights out, staring off into space. B

Heartbeat City [Elektra, 1984]
With hooks recurring as predictably as zebras on a carousel or heartbeats in a city, the glossy approach the Cars invented has made this the best year for pure pop in damn near twenty, and it's only fair that they should return so confidently to form. They still don't have much to say and they're still pretty arch about it, but that's no reason for anybody to get unduly bothered, and neither is Greg Hawkes's Fairlight. B+

Greatest Hits [Elektra, 1985]
In retrospect, it seems fairly incredible that this was once the stuff of cause célèbre--that the battle was joined over pop product so sleekly affectless. But of course, once upon a time affectlessness was progress; once upon a time a pop fan couldn't count on the radio to push his or her buttons. Those for whom struggle is all will claim that the sparer and supposedly fresher debut remains definitive, but they're just hyping their own dashed hopes. Fleet, efficient, essentially meaningless, this is the Cars' gift to history--seven seamless years of it. A-