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The Cars

Heartbeat City: Expanded Edition


Apr 19, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The Cars would have opted for someone slightly more laid back than Robert John “Mutt” Lange to produce their fifth album, 1984’s Heartbeat City. Lange was on a rollForeigner 4, Back In Black, and a couple of multi-platinum albums by Def Leppard were already under his belt in the early part of the ‘80s, before he agreed to work with Boston’s finest. He drove them to the edge of madness, but the result was the biggest selling album of their career. And probably the most ‘80s sounding album of all time.

The stars were all aligned in The Cars’ favor for this record. The band had the tunes, Lange had the vision (and superhuman patience) and thanks to their slot at Live Aid, over a year after the album was first released, they had the biggest stage in the world to play on. The hits just kept on coming: “You Might Think,” “Magic,” “Hello Again,” and the juggernaut that was “Drive,” were permanently on FM radio and mainstays on MTV. Resistance was futile.

Once you drill down through the layers of painstaking Lange production (Ric Ocasek’s liner notes to this reissue tell a story of a man who could obsess about a single syllable and took about three weeks over just Ben Orr’s bass tracks) fortunately, you get a clutch of great pop songs. They may lack a lot of the quirky idiosyncrasies that made their earlier albums so interesting, but they’re a master class in how to present New Wave pop. Each track is shiny and perfect. Diehards may have thrown their hands up in the air, claiming that the band had lost their edge, but it’s hard to argue with a quadruple platinum album.

For Heartbeat City, guitarist Elliot Easton is kept on a tighter leash, so the expressive flourishes that characterized much of the band’s previous repertoire are tucked away under the keyboards and vocals. David Robinson, the band’s drummer, doesn’t get behind the kit at all and was assigned the task of programming the rigid, perfect backbeat to all the songsunder Lange’s watchful eye of course.

There are a bunch of rarities tacked on to this reissue. Worthy of particular mention is the 12-inch version of “Hello Again” which combines all the elements of ‘80s production that you’d rather forgetorchestral stabs, random samples, and everything including the kitchen sink are thrown at the tune. It may have filled a dance floor in 1984, but in 2018, it’s a brave person who makes it all the way to the end of the tune. Conversely, the demo for “Drive” is fascinating. Who’d have thought that it would have started life as a bossa-nova?

With their recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the time is right for a reappraisal of The Cars. This would be a good place to start. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Mike Peele
August 31st 2018

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