Friday, 11 March 2016

"The Elektra Years: 1978-1987" by THE CARS (2016 Rhino/Warner Brothers/Elektra 6CD Mini Box Set - Ted Jensen/Ric Ocasek Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...A Fine Line Between Us..." 

CARS fans have had a bit of scrappy-do ride when it comes to CD Remasters of their Boston heroes. The "Just What I Needed" 2CD Anthology from Rhino in 1995 did a fabulous job as did those expensive but oh so nice efforts with "Shake It Up" from Mobile Fidelity in 2010 (see Review) and the Japanese Remaster of "Heartbeat City" in 2012. But those are deleted and gathering cost while the 5CD "Original Album Series" Mini Box Set from 2010 carries varying audio across all five titles (as it seems to do for all of those WEA box sets). Someone has obviously thought it about time that the entire 6-album, 60-track catalogue of THE CARS gets an Audio facelift – and in March 2016 - here comes My Best Friend's Girl...

Having said all that - I've been looking forward to this little beast for some time – and if I'm truthful I'd advise fans to holster those audio-expectations because to my ears this box set is a strange hybrid of good and bad Remastered Sound. The first three albums sound average - even overly loud - while at the same time being strangely deadpan and disjointed ("The Cars", "Candy-O" and "Panorama") – but the last three are shining like never before – jewels that will thrill fans to the core of their beings ("Shake It Up", "Heartbeat City" and "Door To Door"). Could just be my ageing lugs – anyway to the details...

UK and Europe released Friday, 11 March 2016 – "The Elektra Years: 1978-1987" by THE CARS on Rhino/Warner Brothers/Elektra 081227947439 (Barcode 081227947439) is a 6CD Clamshell Box Set featuring their first six studio albums Remastered by TED JENSEN (overseen by band founder RIC OCASEK) and plays outs as follows:

Disc 1 "The Cars" (35:10 minutes):
1. Good Times Roll
2. My Best Friend's Girl
3. Just What I Needed
4. I'm In Touch With Your World
5. Don't Cha Stop
6. You're All I've Got Tonight [Side 1]
7. Bye Bye Love
8. Moving In Stereo
9. All Mixed Up
Tracks 1 to 9 are their debut album "The Cars" – released June 1978 in the USA on Elektra 6E-135 and August 1978 in the UK on Elektra K 52088. It peaked at No. 18 and 29 on the US and UK LP charts.

Disc 2 "Candy-O" (36:31 minutes):
1. Let's Go
2. Since I Held You
3. It's All I Can Do
4. Double Life
5. Shoo Be Doo
6. Candy-O
7. Night Spots [Side 2]
8. You Can Hold On Too Long
9. Lust For Kicks
10. Got A Lot On My Head
11. Dangerous Type
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 2nd studio album "Candy-O" – released June 1979 in the USA on Elektra 5E-507 and in the UK on Elektra K 52148. It peaked at No. 3 and 30 on the USA and UK LP charts.

Disc 3 "Panorama" (40:32 minutes):
1. Panorama
2. Touch And Go
3. Gimme Some Slack
4. Don't Tell Me No
5. Getting Through
6. Misfit Kid [Side 2]
7. Down Boys
8. You Wear Those Eyes
9. Running To You
10. Up And Down
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 3rd studio album "Panorama" – released August 1980 in the USA on Elektra 5E-514 and in the UK on Elektra 52240. It peaked at No. 5 in the USA but didn’t chart in the UK.

Disc 4 "Shake It Up" (40:43 minutes):
1. Since You're Gone
2. Shake It Up
3. I'm Not The One
4. Victim Of Love
5. Cruiser
6. A Dream Away [Side 2]
7. This Could Be Love
8. Think It Over
9. Maybe Baby
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 4th studio album "Shake It Up" – released November 1981 in the USA on Elektra 5E-567 and in the UK on Elektra K 52330. It peaked at No. 9 in the USA but didn’t chart in the UK.

Disc 5 "Heartbeat City" (38:38 minutes):
1. Hello Again
2. Looking For Love
3. Magic
4. Drive
5. Stranger Eyes
6. You Might Think [Side 2]
7. It's Not The Night
8. Why Can't I Have You
9. I Refuse
10. Heartbeat City
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 5th studio album "Heartbeat City" – released March 1984 in the USA on Elektra 60296-1 and in the UK on Elektra 960 296-1. It peaked at No. 3 and 25 in the USA and UK LP charts.

Disc 6 "Door To Door" (45:54 minutes):
1. Leave Or Stay
2. You Are My Girl
3. Double Trouble
4. Fine Line
5. Everything You Say
6. Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
7. Strap Me In [Side 2]
8. Coming Up You
9. Wound Up On You
10. Go Away
11. Door To Door
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 6th studio album "Door To Door" – released September 1987 in the USA on Elektra 9 60747-1 and in the UK on Elektra EKT 42. It peaked at No. 26 and 72 in the US and UK LP charts.

The glossy clamshell box set is pretty to look at and tactile too. Fans will know that each original Cars vinyl album came with a 'inner sleeve' ("Heartbeat City" also boasted a gatefold sleeve) - so Rhino have reproduced each as a double-sided single-sheet inlay which is placed inside the 5" card repro sleeves all of which are based on the American LP artwork. You will of course need a strong set of retinas and perhaps a large telescope to actually read the lyrics contained therein – but at least they're on those inserts – albeit in miniscule form. The only and obvious difference is that Ocasek has had the "Heartbeat City" gatefold sleeve changed into his preferred 'white border' sleeve which to my eyes in infinitely prettier and more distinctive. A few might moan about tapering with history – but I think most will dig it (its pictured on the rear of the box).  

There's no booklet (mores the shame) but there is a single-page inlay with track lists and reissue credits (JOHN HUGHES and MIKE ENGSTROM are Project Supervisors). This time the detached inlay has been placed 'inside' the box instead of being attached to the outside and thereby going to crumpled mush once you get the shrinkwrap off (common sense has prevailed). But the big news is brand new TED JENSEN Remasters for all six albums and 60 tracks carried out at Sterling Sound in New York and supervised by bandleader and principal songwriter – RIC OCASEK. As I've said already – I'm finding them a very mixed bag for the first three albums – and I know the remaining three were recorded better – but man do they shine on this box compared to the first three. The "Shake It Up" album is a revelation and I’ve always felt the hidden gem in their catalogue after the disappointing "Panorama". Both "Heartbeat City" and "Door To Door" sound glorious too. Let's go through the albums...

The first thing you notice as you play "Good Times Roll" from their storming "The Cars" debut album is the raised hiss level at the beginning of the track that seems to persist throughout the album. It's like someone has left the treble open at full throttle and to hell with the results. There was a subtly in the handling of "Just What I Needed" and "Moving In Stereo" in previous remasters that seems to have been abandoned for full transparency – and I'm not so sure if its been such a good idea. Others may disagree. But then you get to "You're All I've Got Tonight" and the overlooked finisher "All Mixed Up" and the Audio is fab – full of presence and oomph.

Both 1979's "Candy-O" and 1980's "Panorama" represented a lull for me in The Cars catalogue and I'll admit I haven't played either in decades. So re-hearing those forgotten album tracks like the wonderfully melodic "It's All I Can Do" and the choppy rock of "Night Spots" come as more than a pleasant surprise. There's hiss on the 'can I touch you' of "Dangerous Type" but its certainly punchier when that clever synth break kicks in. The single "Touch And Go" is probably the track most people know off "Panorama" - but I'd forgotten about the Tom Petty boogie of "Getting Through" and the sheer hookiness of "Misfit Kid". And then there's the city-at-night eeriness of "You Wear Those Eyes" where Ocasek sounds like the male version of Martha Davies from The Motels. There's noticeable muscle in the grungy guitars of "Running To You" but the other instruments still seem lost in a 'too busy' mix.

Cars fans will know that only 4 of the 9 tracks from "Shake It Up" made the 1995 "Just What I Needed" 2CD Anthology – so how cool is it to have this whole record in spiffing remastered audio here (at a reasonable cost). All songs are CARS originals except "This Could Be Love" which is written by Greg Hawkes. My favourite track has always been "A Dream Away" - the song’s sweeping 'liquid' feel swimming out of my speakers – what a winner. The punch out of "I’m Not The One" is fabulous – when the guitar slides in about 25 seconds in - it's so clear. Some tracks are weak ("Cruiser" and "Maybe Baby" are hardly great) - but there are others on here that I can't live without like the frantic "Think It Over" and the Side 1 opener "Since You’re Gone" both sounding hot, hot, hot. The guitar solo on "Shake It Up" too is a masterpiece of brevity and precision and sounds brill...

Their career would reach an artistic and commercial peak with the superb "Heartbeat City" album from 1984 – resplendent with monster hits like "You Might Think", "Magic" and the magisterial "Drive" (few will forget its impact at Live Aid - moving millions to donate). In fact it felt like 1984 was dominated by this most 'Summer' of albums – perfect radio fodder with Pop-Rock tunes like "It's Not The Night" and "Why Can't I Have You". But for me the title track has always been my crave. "Heartbeat City" has that genius Cars combo of elements - a wicked Icehouse/Roxy Music synth groove that gets its teeth into you and just builds and builds on those melodious soundscapes...

The "Door To Door" album in 1987 probably took too long to arrive - following a crowd-pleasing "Greatest Hits" set in 1986 - and compared to "Heartbeat City" seemed strangely lacking. But that doesn't mean it didn't have its moments. For years I've wanted the pretty Icehouse soulfulness of "Fine Line" in decent sound – and here it is (lyrics from it title this review). The wild dancing guitars and piano of "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo" leap out of speakers with real power (my LP version always sounded crap) and the single "Strap Me In" sounds amazing – big swirling soundscape – grungy guitars – a proper Cars blaster.

To sum up – it's good to have their catalogue celebrated like this – and on CD – at a reasonable price. But I'm still going to have get used to those Remasters on the first three albums. "...Heartbeat City's on the loose..." - Ocasek sings on that swirling tune. Indeed it is...

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