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Various Artists - Substitution Mass Confusion: Tribute to the Cars Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 February 2005

Various Artists

Substitution Mass Confusion: Tribute to the Cars
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Not Lame
release year: 2005
performance: 7
sound 7
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

Image For some, The Cars represented a prime example of gratuitous corporate rock back during MTV’s heyday. For others, this Boston band successfully walked the fine line of being a commercially viable group and an edgily New Wave outfit simultaneously -- at least for its first three albums or so. But no matter what perspective you take on this notable remnant of video music age history, it’s difficult to deny that the group was a great pop-rock band. This is why the power pop label Not Lame is the perfect forum for this new tribute to The Cars’ curious legacy.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the best cover versions of songs are usually the ones that dare to take at least a few liberties with the original templates. For instance, The Daybirds reconstruct “Good Times Roll” here, a song that was originally nothing if not a party tune, and transform it into a lo-fi dirge. It certainly doesn’t sound like anybody’s having any fun during this take. Another aural revelation is Purr Box’s “Shake It Up,” simply because this group’s singer, Miss Millie, is a spot-on vocal dead ringer for Belinda Carlisle, which leaves the tune sounding oddly like The Cars mixed together with The Go-Gos. Butch Walker’s recording of "My Best Friend’s Girlfriend" begins with just acoustic guitar and an affected vocal, which finds Walker coming off like he’s singing over a phone line. It’s slowed and quieted down, compared to the original, and even incorporates steel guitar on its backing track. It’s an inventive departure, to say the least. The Bravery’s version of "It’s All I Can Do" is a synth pop take, complete with spacey keyboards and Bono-like emotive vocals. Such emotional singing is a strikingly new measure, since Cars singer Ric Ocasek is one of the coldest fishes in the sea in the whole singing department.

Whereas the above examples take a proverbial artistic hacksaw to the originals, there are other tracks here that offer only slight variations on the form. Included under this modest reinterpretation heading is Chris von Sneidern’s "Drive," which replaces polished ‘80s pop with acoustic guitars. And speaking of gearing down the gloss, Bleu’s "You Might Think" strips away much of the keyboard excess associated with that original.

Even the recordings on this disc that are just a little too awed by The Cars’ initial creations – and there are too many here to mention – are still fun. The Cars was a band that may not have championed any great social causes, or invented any revolutionary new styles of music, but it was most certainly a consistent hit machine. Or to put this in Cars-ian terminology, it was as reliable as anything else that ever came off of Detroit’s assembly lines.

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