THE CARS: CANDY-O (1979)
1) Let's Go; 2) Since I Held You; 3) It's All I Can Do; 4) Double Life; 5) Shoo Be Doo; 6) Candy-O; 7) Night Spots; 8) You Can't Hold On Too Long; 9) Lust For Kicks; 10) Got A Lot On My Head; 11) Dangerous Type.
The «carbon copy» principle does not necessarily lead to failure — one need only mention the classic example of Strange Days doing everything that The Doors did and more — but with The Cars, we have a classic example of the opposite: Candy-O is just like The Cars, featuring all the same ingredients, but completely missing the magic of its predecessor. It's such a direct slap in the face, and, strange as it is, so many people have noticed this and commented on it that a detailed, professional-musicological comparison of the two records could probably lead to major scientific breakthroughs on our perception of music in general, and I'm dead serious.
As an incentive, just take the case of the opening tracks. ʽLet's Goʼ is a good pop-rock single that also opens with the juxtaposition of old-school rock guitar and new-school futuristic synthesizer, also has a catchy singalong chorus, and also has some of that detached, ironic cool. It's a nice song to brighten up your day — but it just ain't ʽGood Times Rollʼ, because ʽGood Times Rollʼ had a certain amount of sonic depth to it. The guitar lick was snapping and barking, the synth counter-response went kick-ass, kick-ass, the vocal was bitterly desperate, the post-chorus keyboard flourish was an anthemic fanfare. There, you had a feeling like something was really happening. ʽLet's Goʼ, in comparison, is just a bit of light-headed fluff — there's no double bottom to this song, no intrinsic bite to the guitar or keyboard melodies, and even the lyrics, come to think of it, are just a 1979 take on ʽI Saw Her Standing Thereʼ ("and she won't give up 'cause she's seventeen" is, after all, a dead giveaway).
Alas, the same relative disappointment applies to just about any song on the album — everywhere you go, you are greeted with the same simple, endearing, fluffy synth-adorned power-pop, decently composed, arranged, and performed, but with very little lasting value, and very little, in fact, to distinguish it from any similar New Wave pop from the era. Some of the choruses are fabulously catchy, yes, mainly through being so repetitive (ʽIt's All I Can Doʼ), but it is only on the guitar-heavy title track, with Orr's almost Kraftwerkian robotic vocals, the relentless mechanistic punch of the rhythm guitar, and the weird alternation of power chords and pseudo-classical arpeggios in the guitar solo, where I am reminded that this is indeed the same band that made The Cars into one of the epoch's most symbolic albums.
I wish I could say that the main problem of Candy-O is that it focuses too much on «silly love songs», but so did The Cars — it's not as if these songs are really that much «sillier» by definition. In fact, repeated listens bring out favorable points almost everywhere. ʽNight Spotsʼ has a classy guitar riff, and it's fun to see it clash with Hawkes' keyboards as they occasionally imitate the sound of equipment heating up and ready to explode. The "it's all gonna happen to you" chorus of ʽDouble Lifeʼ is elegantly attenuated by Easton's slide guitar licks, giving it a touch of class. ʽGot A Lot On My Headʼ is frantic fun, opening with a power-pop riff that lesser bands would kill for, and you just gotta love how it explodes right before the beginning of the verse, scintillating in little flaming fragments away in the stratosphere. In fact, not a single song even begins to approach «bad» — I am not exactly sure about the function of the brief echoey experiment of ʽShoo Be Dooʼ, which sounds like a psycho-New Wave impersonation of Gene Vincent, but at least it's a curious experiment, regardless of whether it succeeds or not.
Overall, it's just like this: imagine an album like Rubber Soul immediately followed, rather than preceded, by a... Please Please Me, then imagine your reaction at such a twist. In time, you'd probably learn to fall under the charm of both, but the first feeling of disappointment (especially if this had really happened around 1965-66 and you were there at the time) would probably stay with you for the rest of your life. And this is pretty much what happened here — Candy-O has the same pretty face as The Cars, but there's no teeth in that pretty mouth once it begins to smile at you. Perfectly enjoyable, but I never ever even get the urge to sing along to any of these songs because I don't feel like they have enough soul in them, and it's hard to empathize. Maybe it would have been better to have them all as instrumentals? Anyway, still a thumbs up for all the cool melodies, but a major relative disappointment that certainly does not deserve getting a Roxy Music-inspired album cover — where's the appropriate decadence, goddammit?