January 27, 2005

Various Artists "Substitution Mass Confusion: A Tribute to The Cars"

Maybe I'm getting old, but I've been rather sad to see The Cars slip off into obscurity. They were an essential band of my youth, one I loved quite openly, but as the years have passed, it seems as if they've been forgotten. That's a shame, because they wrote some really, really wonderful songs. Hits like "Magic," "You Might Think," "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" and "Just What I Needed" were songs that showed a great deal of depth, and it's a sad testament to how far pop music has devolved when, in less than twenty years, such intelligent pop music became an old-fashioned relic. Great bands shouldn't be forgotten, and it's sad when they are.

Still, now is neither the time nor place to go on a rant about 'the good old days,' but I've got to give Not Lame credit for their Cars tribute album, Substitution Mass Confusion. Enlisting twenty-one bands (most of which are power-pop bands) to take on the back catalog of Ric Ocasek sounds like a fun idea, and for the most part, the bands do an excellent job of interpreting these classics. Many of the bands are obscure, but don't let that scare you off; almost all of these interpretations are excellent.

The takes on their classic hits achieve varying levels of success; Damone's girl-sung version of "Just What I Needed" is fresh and faithful, as is Bleu's take on "You Might Think" also retains the energy of the original. Others interpret the songs quite differently; Butch Walker's "My Best Friend's Magic Girlfriend" is a dirge-like medley that doesn't work at all, PurrBox's valley-girl take on "Shake it Up" is merely OK, but The Daybirds' "Good Times Roll" turns the song into a slightly pschedelic, "Strawberry Fields Forever"-style ballad, which is just amazing.

While the band's hits are somewhat sacred, it's the lesser-known numbers which impress. Spiraling's "Bye Bye Love" is impressive, because not only is their rendition faithful, it also shows The Cars' influence, as it sounds like an outtake from Spiraling's debut. The Argument's "Hello Again" is a fast, meaty rocker; The Millions' "You're All I've Got Tonight" and Action Action's "Tonight She Comes" are all so good, you'll want to rush off to the record store to get the original versions of these great songs. (Besides, every music-loving home needs a copy of The Cars and Heartbeat City.)

And isn't that the point?

Substitution Mass Confusion is a surprisingly fresh, interesting and fun listen--much more than you would imagine from a tribute record. If you've never heard The Cars, go buy a greatest hits record instead, because you need to get educated. If you have heard The Cars, Substitution Mass Confusion will make you want to pull out Candy-O again. (The record is also a benefit for the American Cancer Society, in memory of founding member Benjamin Orr, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2000.)

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.notlame.com
Record Website: http://www.notlame.com/thecars
Organization Website: http://www.cancer.org

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