'This is not a reunion — it's more like a conjunction." That is how singer-guitarist-songwriter Ric Ocasek of the Cars describes "Move Like This," the New Wave band's first studio album in 24 years. "I never thought I'd make another Cars record," he claims, citing "the past, personalities and Ben's passing away" — the death in 2000 of bassist-singer Benjamin Orr.
But a year ago, Ocasek — a producer and periodic solo artist — found himself with new songs, "a lot of which I liked," he says. "It dawned on me: 'What if I called the guys? They'll do the best job, because they already know the whole thing.'"
This article appears in the March 3, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive February 18.
To be released on May 10 by Hear Music, "Move Like This" was recorded last year in Los Angeles and upstate New York by the entire surviving band: Ocasek, drummer David Robinson, guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboard player Greg Hawkes. Gareth "Jacknife" Lee, who has worked with U2 and R.E.M., produced five tracks; the band did the rest. Lee and Hawkes split the bass duties. Ocasek, who left the vocal spotlight to Orr's rich tenor on hits like 1978's "Just What I Needed" and the 1984 ballad "Drive," sang all 10 songs.
"I was aware that on half of the new songs, Ben would have done better than I did," Ocasek concedes. "But we never wanted anybody from the outside." Orr was actually present, in spirit, at many sessions: Hawkes played one of his old basses, now owned by Robinson. "Ben would have been there if he had been alive," Hawkes says. "That's the only way we could think about it."
In all other ways, new songs such as "Hits Me," "Free" and "Blue Tip" are a total recall of the precise swagger, art-rock minimalism and chrome-gleam pop on the Top Five LPs "Candy-O" (1979), "Panorama" (1980) and "Heartbeat City" (1984). "We were there for the songs," Ocasek says of the Cars' original hit streak. "This album carries that through."
Hawkes admits he was "fairly surprised" when Ocasek called him about a new record. After the Cars broke up in 1988 over personal tensions and fading success, Ocasek refused to consider a reunion. "I held out," he notes, "for 23 years." He reluctantly gave his blessing when Hawkes and Easton toured in 2005 as the New Cars, with dire results. But Ocasek insists "the only thing that got it together again was these songs.
"I wouldn't mind doing more records," Ocasek adds, although he is leery of touring. "This is not 'We're back, and you're gonna hear the hits.'" Rumors of Coachella or Lollapalooza gigs this year are, so far, just that. "It might be fun to do a couple of shows," Ocasek says. And he's ready to do his best when it's time to sing "Drive." "People would just say, 'He doesn't sing it as good as Ben, but what the [bleep] — he's the guy who wrote it.'"