THE CARS: DOOR TO DOOR (1987)
1) Leave Or Stay; 2) You Are The Girl; 3) Double Trouble; 4) Fine Line; 5) Everything You Say; 6) Ta Ta Wayo Wayo; 7) Strap Me In; 8) Coming Up You; 9) Wound Up On You; 10) Go Away; 11) Door To Door.
Conventional wisdom says that Heartbeat City, with its mega-popular singles and ground-breaking videos, was a very good record — then the same conventional wisdom goes on to say that Door To Door, released after yet another break for solo projects, was a tremendous drop down in quality, and the record is consistently rated as the band's worst ever. So poorly produced, so uninspired, so boring, that the only way they could excuse themselves was by breaking up, which they did. One and a half stars, tops.
For some reason, I have never felt this opposition. To me, this is basically Heartbeat City Vol. 2, perhaps a wee bit heavier on (bad) guitars, but also a tad darker and more mysterious — on my own, I would never have guessed that I was supposed to love the former and hate the latter. It even has about the same ration of songs I really have a feeling for and songs I couldn't care less about never hearing again; my only explanation is that the overall «style» of Heartbeat City, which felt fresh and exciting in 1984, had become so clichéd and stale by 1987 that the same songs that used to be adored were now abhorred. But as time becomes compressed and we now look back at both records from a faraway point, I suppose it's high time the oddly polarized reactions began to be corrected.
I mean, ʽYou Are The Girlʼ is essentially a follow-up to ʽYou Might Thinkʼ, maybe a bit more sentimental, but essentally the same type of simple upbeat catchy pop song that does not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but is worth a chuckle or two while it's on. Granted, the second single, ʽStrap Me Inʼ, may be one of the worst things they ever did (three power chords is not the reason why they brought back more guitars, right?), but the third one, ʽComing Up Youʼ, is a soft synth pop tune for kids that has plenty of inventive «symphonic-electronic» overdubs to suggest they actually still cared at the moment, so?..
Anyway, the two songs I really like have nothing to do with the singles. ʽFine Lineʼ is a moody follow-up to ʽDriveʼ, this time with a smoky, melancholic atmosphere created by solemn sustained organ notes, and even moodier overdubs by Hawkes and Easton — this time there's no optimism, as in ʽDriveʼ, and although the lyrics are enigmatic, the feeling is one of acknowledging the inevitability of alienation ("there's a fine line between us, all the way"), and it's working. The second favorite is ʽGo Awayʼ, another Orr-sung number that's actually closer to ʽDriveʼ in spirit, but now it's fast and energetic, and the escapist chorus, highlighted by a bitter-tender jangling guitar line, really stands out as an emotional outbreak. Both songs are dark in essence — uneasy broodings by people who feel trapped in a rut and do not have a good idea of how to break the circle, but are able to at least encode that desperation in melody.
Perhaps it was, after all, the element of thick distorted «quasi-punk» guitar that pissed off critics and fans alike: the title track begins with such an insanely fast drum beat that if it weren't the last track on the album, fans might have suspected their favorite band to have gone hardcore on their asses. But it's only there on three tracks — title song, ʽStrap Me Inʼ, and ʽDouble Troubleʼ, the last of which is actually moderately catchy, so not that much of a problem. There's also one of the earliest songs they wrote, ʽTa Ta Wayo Wayoʼ, another fast and merry pop-rocker that they rehearsed in the studio and eventually loved so much they decided to finally cut it — silly decision, perhaps, yet there's nothing that should make us think of, say, ʽWhy Can't I Have Youʼ as a masterpiece and this song as a comparative throwaway.
In short, Door To Door isn't half as bad as they tell you: chances are that if you honestly like Heartbeat City, you'll find plenty of things to like on this belated follow-up as well. It's a different matter entirely that The Cars, as a band, found themselves ultimately dissatisfied with each other and chose to break up — not at the end of their rope (Ocasek went on to have quite a successful career), but rather just because they felt like it: "we left on a good note, a high note", says Ocasek, and while the note could certainly have been higher, there was plenty of room in musical Hell well below Heartbeat City (becoming a collective Bryan Adams, for instance!), and they never went there, and that's okay by me.