Out There

The salvage yard

The Cars Deluxe Edition
The Cars
Rhino/Elektra

The Grave Robbers are at it again, digging up the corpses of dead-and-buried demos long ago thought to be reduced to dirt in a hole. The zombies are everywhere, walking the earth in this digital age; there's no such thing as unreleased anymore, only songs that have yet to be remastered and repackaged. Sooner or later, every record ever made will be restored and rereleased in all its direct-from-the-masters glory, with a handful of basement-tape demos and discarded B-sides tacked on to lure in the sucker completists who need to own their heroes' every belch and fart. Epic/Legacy's working on the "new" version of Boston's debut, with a bonus acoustic version of "More Than a Feeling" and three discs' worth of a teenage Tom Scholz soloing in his garage; Interscope's touting its attempt to add the original 42-minute orchestrated "Bloody Well Right" to Supertramp's Crime of the Century; and word has it Rykodisc has acquired the entire Knack catalog, which it intends to remaster while adding 13 just-discovered songs to each title. Seems every record wasn't quite finished; there was always a little genius left over.

So goes this Cars two-fer--one side containing the 1978 debut, the other featuring track-for-track demos and five never-heards--which is the quintessential version of useless History in the Making, the "other side" of one of the most beguiling and banal records ever made. Relive the memories you'd forgotten; return to the glory days of production so slick and soulless, it managed to turn even the most infectious song (e.g., "Just What I Needed") into self-defeating product. Nothing wrong with this album a real singer (say, Bryan Ferry? Lou Reed?) couldn't fix; and "My Best Friend's Girl," "Don't Cha Stop," even "You're All I've Got Tonight" manage to hold up pretty well, all things (and Weezer) considered. But to give it the "Deluxe Edition" treatment? Before Rubber Soul or 12 X 5 or Blonde on Blonde? Or Kajagoogoo's White Feathers? Just what you needed.

Shocking revelation: The demos sound almost note-for-note the same as producer Roy Thomas Baker's sterile studio revamps. Same engaging melodies, same droning delivery (Benjamin Orr singing the dreamier stuff, Ric Ocasek handling the creepier material), same Roxy Music riffs, same everything--nobody ever said it was just about the production with this band. It was mostly about the production, that's all, the meaningful meaningless of Baker's handclaps and overdubbed background vocals and studio effects. What, you thought it was about the lyrics? "Life's the same I'm moving in stereo/Life's the same except for my shoes." No, seriously.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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