CARS

Solo Albums

Reviewed on this page:

Formed in the mid-'70's by Ric Ocasek, the Cars were probably the most commercially successful band to come out of the new wave. They embraced new wave's quirkiness but not its pretensions, creating a unique but easily likable sound that appealed to both mainstream rock fans and new wave types. Five of the band's six albums (released between 1978 and 1987) were platinum sellers. Four of the five members (excluding only drummer David Robinson) recorded at least one solo album apiece, but most of them are out of print.


In the early 1970's, the two future Cars lead singers, Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, were members of a Boston folk trio called Milkwood. At that time, the two went by their real names, Richard Otcasek and Benjamin Orzechowski. Jas Goodkind rounded out the guitar-and-vocal trio, but future Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes also played on Milkwood's only album (his name was spelled "Hawks" in the credits), providing sax and horn arrangements. The 1973 album was called How's The Weather, although some mistakenly think it was self-titled. It predates the first Cars album by a good five years.

Anyone who heard this album in 1973 would have needed psychic powers to predict the future Velvet Underground/Roxy Music-inspired direction of Milkwood's members. How's The Weather consists of very gentle folk music on the order of America and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ocasek wrote nine of the ten songs, and sang the lead on eight of those. The other track, "Lincoln Park", was written and recognizably sung by Orr. The low-key songs are listenable but not very stimulating. Ocasek sounds unnaturally restrained on this album; he doesn't seem comfortable imitating David Crosby or Gerry Beckley. Jas Goodkind's vocal on the Ocasek-penned "Makeshift Pawn" is more typical of the period's MOR vocalists. The most adventurous track is "Timetrain Wonderwheel", which gets a big boost from Hawkes' wind arrangements.

Track Listing:

1. With You With Me
2. Dream Trader
3. Lincoln Park
4. Bring Me Back
5. Timetrain Wonderwheel
6. Makeshift Pawn
7. The Light Won't Burn
8. Along The Way
9. We've Been All Through
10. Winter Song



Ocasek, the Cars' eccentric leader, was the first member of the band to record and release a solo album. His 1982 solo debut Beatitude is a soothing low-key delight. It followed a blueprint similar to that of a Cars album, but with more keyboards and less guitar. The result eschews his usual band's rock and roll bounce in favor of a more mellow electronic sound. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The opening track "Jimmy Jimmy" is an insightful look at teenage angst and confusion. Smart use of a saxophone adds a touch of class to "Prove". Songs such as "I Can't Wait" and "Time Bomb" anticipate the sound of Wish-era Cure, ten years before the fact.

Track Listing:

1. Jimmy Jimmy
2. Something To Grab For
3. Prove
4. I Can't Wait
5. Connect Up To Me
6. A Quick One
7. Out Of Control
8. Take A Walk
9. Sneak Attack
10. Time Bomb



In 1983, Hawkes recorded his only solo album. The self-produced Niagara Falls is mostly instrumental, although Hawkes adds vocals on the Devo-esque "Jet Lag" and "Voyage Into Space". The latter track features his wife Elaine on flute; otherwise, Hawkes played every instrument on the album (keyboards, drum machines, guitar, and "other noises"). The album has a space age electronic sound; Hawkes comes across as either a less obscure Brian Eno or a more accessible Philip Glass. It's a stylish and individual work. The title track and "Ants In Your Pants" are enjoyably bouncy; "Llamas" is effectively relaxing.

Track Listing:

1. Niagara Falls
2. Twenty-Seven Shirts
3. Ants In Your Pants
4. Llamas
5. The Missing Link
6. Block Party
7. Jet Lag
8. Beep Beep
9. Bee System
10. Voyage Into Space
11. Let There Be Lights



Lead guitarist Elliot Easton recorded one solo album in 1985. Change No Change is a respectable though unremarkable mainstream rock album. Easton had a good songwriting partner in Jules Shear, who co-wrote the ten songs with Easton. Easton played all of the guitars (including bass and sitar) and sang the lead vocals. And there lies the album's weakness: Easton's vocals are underwhelming, and keep the songs from being memorable. If nothing else, Change No Change has the distinction of being farther removed from the Cars sound than any other member's solo album. Aside from the Ocasek-like "I Want You", Easton and Shear did their own thing on this guitar-based album. (Note: Change No Change has been reissued on CD twice, first in the late '90's by Elektra, and again in 2006 by Wounded Bird. Both reissues featured five bonus tracks recorded in 1993 by an Easton-led group called Band Of Angels).

Track Listing:

1. Tools Of Your Labor
2. (Wearing Down) Like A Wheel
3. Shayla
4. Help Me
5. (She Made It) New For Me
6. I Want You
7. The Hard Way
8. Fight My Way To Love
9. Change
10. Wide Awake

CD bonus tracks recorded in 1993. Lead vocals by Danny Malone.

11. Lonely Is The Dark
12. Walk On Walden
13. Long, Long Time
14. Stop The World From Turning
15. Let It Slide



Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, was the bassist and sometime lead singer of the Cars. His only solo album, The Lace, was released in 1986. The album's sound might best be described as Cars Lite. Orr's mellow pop variation contains many of the usual ingredients of the Cars sound (including Elliot Easton's guitar playing on some tracks) without Ric Ocasek's tension and quirkiness. That makes a big difference. The songs (written by Orr and his then-girlfriend Diane Grey Page) are smooth, soft, and bland. The synth-based album offers three aimless pleasantries ("Stay The Night", "Skyline", "Hold On") and seven other songs that quickly become tired. (Note: The Lace was reissued in 2006 by the Wounded Bird label).

Track Listing:

1. Too Hot To Stop
2. In Circles
3. Stay The Night
4. Skyline
5. When You're Gone
6. Spinning
7. Hold On
8. The Lace
9. That's The Way
10. This Time Around



In 1987, Hawkes composed and performed the music score for the movie
Anna, a fairly moving drama about an aging Czechoslavakia-born actress struggling in New York City. (One of the film's co-stars was Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova, who later married Ocasek). The soundtrack LP consists of tasteful electronic music that lies somewhere on the musical spectrum between Vangelis and Jan Hammer. This is a more stately work than Niagara Falls, but Hawkes does impart a certain playfulness (especially during the danceable "Today's Party") that prevents it from sounding like a coffee-table record.

Track Listing:

1. Waltz In A Flat Major (Chopin)
2. Opening Theme
3. Late For Work
4. Driving Music
5. Tune Up
6. I'm Not A Socialist
7. Noodle Music
8. Penguins
9. Igloos
10. Waltz In A Flat Major (Chopin)
11. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
12. Anna
13. Today's Party
14. See You Next Week
15. Cockroach Music
16. Fire Escape
17. Part Socialist
18. Desert Music
19. Noodle Too



In 1988, Ocasek's son Christopher Otcasek (notice how he kept the 't' in his surname) made his own bid for stardom in a group called Glamour Camp. The group recorded just one self-titled album which went by unnoticed. The younger Otcasek is now best remembered for covering "Real Wild Child" on the
Pretty Woman soundtrack in 1990.

Glamour Camp were at least not a clone of the Cars, although both groups shared a noticeable Roxy Music influence. Too bad Christopher's band didn't come up with an interesting sound of their own. Glamour Camp consists of run-of-the-mill '80's synth-pop, containing pale imitations of Robert Palmer ("She Did It"), Psychedelic Furs ("When A Girl Walks Away"), Simple Minds ("Fall For You", "Lifeless"), and, I kid you not, George Michael ("Cruel Pretender").


Track Listing:

1. Fall For You
2. She Did It
3. On The Road
4. Neverlasting
5. Kingfish
6. When A Girl Walks Away
7. Cruel Pretender
8. Lifeless



Ocasek is the only member who has released solo albums since the band's 1988 breakup. Ocasek has become something of a hip record producer over the years, having produced everyone from Weezer to No Doubt, Bad Brains to Bad Religion. Ocasek's '90's solo albums didn't receive much attention, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

The 1991 album Fireball Zone was his first post-Cars release, and his third solo album altogether. Ocasek co-produced the album with Nile Rodgers, and their combined sensibilities give the album more warmth than you would expect from Ocasek. His usual sense of isolation gives way to such upbeat songs as "All We Need Is Love" (no, it's not a Beatles cover) and "Keep That Dream". He nearly gets funky on "Flowers Of Evil" and "Balance", while "Touch Down Easy" and "The Way You Look Tonight" have a laid-back New Order feel. Fireball Zone is a partial change of pace for Ocasek, and the result is enjoyable.

Track Listing:

1. Rockaway
2. Touch Down Easy
3. Come Back
4. The Way You Look Tonight
5. All We Need Is Love
6. Over And Over
7. Flowers Of Evil
8. They Tried
9. Keep That Dream
10. Balance
11. Mister Meaner
12. Fireball Zone



Ocasek's next release, Quick Change World, was intended to be a magnum opus, consisting of two discs and a book of poetry. But because of the commercial failure of Fireball Zone, the record company felt that Ocasek's credit wasn't good enough for such a pricey package. As a result, Quick Change World was pared down to a single CD, and some of the remaining tracks were released on a European CD called Negative Theater. (That was also the title of the book of poetry, which was published and sold separately). The two CDs had seven of the same tracks, and had the same UPC number (?). To the best of my knowledge, neither CD is currently in print in any country.

Quick Change World is divided between the "Right Side" (the first seven songs are the more accessible ones intended for disc one) and the "Left Side" (the last six tracks are artier ones intended for the second disc). The album puts Ocasek back on familiar Cars terrain, partly because he was reunited with Greg Hawkes, but mainly because his trademark tension had come back with a vengeance. It manifested itself in two different ways here: the "right side" tracks are easily digestible pop songs about relationships, while the "left side" tracks are more jittery observations of society's ills. Either way, most of these songs would sound familiar to anyone familiar with the Cars, although Ocasek has never sounded angrier than he does on the industrial-strength "Come Alive". The melancholy "Help Me Find America" ends the album on a moving note.

Negative Theater contained the entire intended Left Side of the album. The darker songs from Quick Change World made more sense in their full context, as Ocasek took a troubled look at life in pre-Giuliani New York City. This more consistent disc still suffers from some unevenness; some of the songs are potent but others are boring. The nine-minute "Race To Nowhere" is filled with NY performance art pomposity, complete with a profane spoken-word rant from Suicide's Alan Vega. On the positive side, "What Is Time" and "Fade Away" are dreamy Bryan Ferry-like pop delights, while "Who Do I Pay" and the danceable "Shake A Little Nervous" sound like great lost Cars songs.


Track Listings:

QUICK CHANGE WORLD

1. The Big Picture
2. Don't Let Go
3. Hard Times
4. A Little Closer
5. Riding Shotgun
6. Feeling's Got To Stay
7. She's On
8. I Still Believe
9. Come Alive
10. Quick Change World
11. What's On T.V.
12. Hopped Up
13. Help Me Find America
14. Telephone Again (not listed in the packaging)

NEGATIVE THEATER

1. I Still Believe
2. Come Alive
3. Quick Change World
4. Ride With Duce
5. What's On TV
6. Shake A Little Nervous
7. Hopped Up
8. Take Me Silver
9. Telephone Again
10. Race To Nowhere (inc. Torture Domes by Alan Vega)
11. Help Me Find America
12. Who Do I Pay
13. Wait For Fate
14. What Is Time
15. Fade Away


Since Ocasek found success as a producer, his solo albums have become a few-and-far-between concern. Before taking a casual eight-year hiatus, Ocasek made the 1997 album Troublizing, a full-blown embrace of '90's alternative rock. Ocasek received support from many prominent musicians from that genre (Billy Corgan, Melissa Auf der Maur, Brian Baker, Matt Walker), as well as from Greg Hawkes. The results feature more loud guitars and fuzzy amps than you probably thought you'd ever hear on an Ocasek album. Although he sometimes sounds overwhelmed by the noise, Ocasek works well with the younger rockers. Troublizing is not one of the high points of Ocasek's career, and it may be too hard-rocking for some Cars fans' liking. But its supporting players do help the album stand apart from Ocasek's other works, which were showing a tendency toward sameness. Corgan's and Auf der Maur's vocal contributions are particularly unexpected.

Track Listing:

1. The Next Right Moment
2. Hang On Tight
3. Crashland Consequence
4. Troublizing
5. Not Shocked
6. Situation
7. Fix On You
8. People We Know
9. Here We Go
10. Society Trance
11. Asia Minor


Ocasek released Nexterday, his first and so far only 21st century solo album, in 2005. On this mature album, Ocasek seemingly found a way to make his sound different from that of the Cars without essentially changing who he is. Nexterday doesn't come across in the exact same way as Ocasek's earlier work (although Cars fans may spot a few familiar lyrics in "Bottom Dollar"). Still, the listener won't forget who they are listening to. Although the songs are mostly rooted in guitar-based rock, there is a pleasing electronic component to the sound. Ocasek's sense of tension is still noticeable -- in the longing of "Silver" and "Crackpot", the pleading of "Don't Lose Me" and "Please Don't Let Me Down", and the mild paranoia of "It Gets Crazy"-- but it is more understated than it once was. Ocasek's personality has clearly mellowed with age, while his sound has been toughened up; it's a paradox that produces good results.

Track Listing:

1. Crackpot
2. Bottom Dollar
3. Don't Lose Me
4. In A Little Bit
5. Silver
6. Come On
7. I'm Thinking
8. Carousel
9. Heard About You
10. Please Don't Let Me Down
11. It Gets Crazy

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