9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Fine Tuned Debut,
This review is from: The Cars (Audio CD)
The music magazine Q recently compiled a list of the 100 best debut albums ever. The Car's debut was NOT on that list. It was, however, on the Top 10 Debuts We Love To Hate list. From my standpoint, they were in good company among artist such as Queen, Dire Straits and Boston. Being a British magazine, Q may have simply missed the influence this album generated since it wasn't that big in the UK (#29). My Best Friend's Girl (#3) became a major hit but in great part due to the single being among the first singles (if not the very first) released as a picture disc (shaped like a car). Just What I Needed (#17) barely crawled into the top 20 and that was practically it for the Cars until they stroke gold internationally with songs from their Heartbeat City album.
In the States this album would hardly be treated similar compilations. My Best Friend's Girl (#27), Just What I Needed (#35) & Good Times Roll (#41) became radio staples and really much more popular than their Billboard top 100 rankings indicate. During its release it was still common on late night radio shows to play whole sides. The three songs already being hits on side A, side B became a popular choice for such occasions. The album didn't set the charts on fire, barely sneaking in the top 20 (#18). With continuous airplay of many of the album's tracks sales were consistent, which in the States matters much more than in most other territories. It wound up being among the top 30 sellers of the decade, selling 6 million copies, an incredible achievement for an album not even close to cracking the top 10. The Cars, both band and album, thus became huge in the States.
There are a few things special about this album. At the time of its release, 1978, its producer, Roy Thomas Baker, was in huge demand, mainly due to his work with Queen. With Queen, the production was full of sound effects and bombastic vocalizations (Bohemian Rhapsody is a prime example). The production on The Cars is, however, sparse on most of the album (the intros of My Best Friend's Girl and Just What I Needed are especially good examples). This made the use of synthesiser more prominent in a sense. The texts were filled with Ric Ocasek's irony which he delivered in a dead panned way; along with the late Benjamin Orr's more emotional approach in singing. In between this sparse production came forceful harmonies, e.g. on You're All I've Got Tonight and Good Times Roll. Combined, this gave the Cars a punkish feel, what today would be labelled as post-punk rock. This sounded very fresh from the typical rock sound which at that point dominated the airwaves as some kind of alternative to balance the popularity of disco.
Actually, it is remarkable how fresh the music still sounds today, more than 25 years after its release. Many groups today are basically doing similar things but now it is viewed as being retro. There is, however, one major drawback on buying this CD (meaning 4 instead of 5 stars). The sound quality is below par, which becomes more evident listening to their Just What I Needed Anthology. Despite being 10 years old, the re-mastering job on that release draws forth the sloppy transfer to CD. The sound is very low although not being muddled as many other badly transferred records. This album really could use some re-mastering (there is one available, a deluxe version from 1990 with an extra demo disc; there have, however, been many albums re-mastered originally released later with clearly audible results so that version does not cut it in my books). Given the sonic achievements that have been done with old Queen releases (the recent 25th anniversary edition of A Night at the Opera could have been recorded yesterday), this album should have tremendous potential in being a major re-release. Not only would a re-mastering job be welcome but a hybrid SACD version would have the potential of making these classics fresher than ever.
Ric, are you reading this?!