Here’s the funny thing though. As different as these bands are, they are in strangely similar territories. For The Cars, the new Move Like This shares more continuity with Ric Ocasek’s ’80s solos (especially This Side of Paradise), and while I find the record pretty solid, the absence of Benjamin Orr stands out more severely than I thought it would. It has a lot to do with the lack of vocal harmonies. If you think about those first few records produced by Roy Thomas Baker, the gang harmonies were all over them. Even after reconciling that Ocasek is the lead vocalist complete, without those tightly constructed bursts of vocal energy, the whole doesn’t quite feel like a full-fledged reunion.
Tracks like “Too Late,” from which the album title is derived, still have Ocasek’s cut-up poetics at the lyrical base, Greg Hawkes’ future synths circa ’78 still click and chirp, and it’s such a pleasure to hear Elliot Easton’s guitar again. “Soon” has an atmosphere more in line with Ocasek’s solo Quick Change World, and it’s hard to say whether The Cars, in their day, would have bet on something so ethereal. “Take Another Look” feels an awful lot like “Emotions In Motion.”
Urge Overkill’s revival might be stranger than The Cars, in that both key members Eddie Roeser and Nash Kato are back, yet Roeser plays the most prominent position on the album, where in the past the contributions seemed more evenly split. With that, a lot of the power-pop flair that drove The Supersonic Storybook and Saturation is diminished, set aside in favor of the crunchier Jesus Urge Overkill and Americruiser sides. It’s not completely gone, though. When Kato takes the mic, as on “Thought Balloon” and “She’s My Ride,” that aspect comes through.
Again, Roeser seems to be the leader of this edition; not entirely a bad thing. “Effigy” is a total flamethrower while “Quiet Person” is probably his best subdued turn since Saturation‘s “Back On Me.” When things get too rambunctious however, hooks get lost against a sometimes indistinct stoner-rock style.
Now here’s where I pull a Joel Siegel-styled flip and contradict myself. Without the handicap of recollection, both these albums hang together very well. So what if Move Like This sounds more like Ocasek-solo than not? What if Rock & Roll Submarine is not an all-out pop album and instead finds the guys back with their bashing, indie rocker roots? Both releases, while toeing the line of the past, cannot hope to undo a decade or more of silence, nor should they be expected to. They are supposed to entertain, and they do it well. Would that every band could come back without totally embarrassing themselves.
I suppose the larger question is whether this indicates a future for either group. We’ve seen comebacks before, and more frequently lately, with catalog money starting to peter out as the “legacy” tour circuit turns a decent profit. I would like to think that these aren’t one-shots meant to catch the fickle ears of old fans, without a better reason for existing than to have something for the merch table. Neither disc sounds that calculated or cynical, thankfully.