Did you want to read a hot take about the second Cars record? Well I have one for you: It’s better than their “classic: debut album. (Shock! Horror!)
The reason why I dislike their debut album isn’t just the content – arena rock and power pop, for the most part – but the reaction to that content – that it was supposedly this fresh new sound, or that it was new wave, or both, rather than, you know, arena rock and power pop in new wave clothes (the vocal delivery, the synthesizers). Ocasek blames Baker, their producer, for the sound of that record – one could also blame, um, the songs – so apparently there was a conscious decision to tone down some of the most obvious arena rock tropes – particularly those clean backing vocals – even though it is the same producer. (Baker produced Queen, so one figures that’s where his obsession with backing vocals comes from.)
It definitely works, making the band sound much closer to new wave than on their first record. But I still have trouble accepting the Cars as some kind of definitive new wave band. There’s still just a token track for actual new wave artiness/weirdness (just like on the debut) and the goal of these musicians is still very much “Let’s get on the radio” rather than let’s deconstruct rock music conventions while remaining reasonably accessible. (That could be the mantra of new wave, if it ever had one, only there is too much diversity in the sounds of the main new wave bands, especially when we consider the British bands, who sound very different and, usually, much more traditional.)
This is still arena rock and power pop posing as something else. It doesn’t have enough energy or edge for me given how straightforward the songs are. But it’s definitely quirkier and (slightly) artier than the first record, and I have to give them credit for that.