The Cars: Idling no more

The reunited Cars

It was the last phone call keyboardist Greg Hawkes expected to get: an invite from singer and chief songwriter Ric Ocasek to restart The Cars. 



Nick Krewen

Special to the Star,

Published on Thu May 19 2011

It was the last phone call keyboardist Greg Hawkes expected to get: an invite from singer and chief songwriter Ric Ocasek to restart The Cars.

The reunited Cars

After all, it had been almost a quarter-century since the Boston-based rock ‘n’ roll New Wavers had put the brakes to their 20-million-selling seven-album career, stalling after a lukewarm reception to 1987’s Door To Door, a major letdown in the face of 1984’s mega-successful Heartbeat City.

Since The Cars had been scrapped in ’88, Ocasek had steadfastly refused to reunite, preferring to concentrate on solo albums and the very occasional live appearance. In 2000, co-founding bass player Benjamin Orr — the bandmate Ocasek had originally hooked up with in a folk trio called Milkwood before the duo forged ahead with their most famous band — succumbed to cancer.

And a 2006 attempt by Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton to team up with Todd Rundgren in the revamped New Cars quickly ran out of gas.

“I think it was a surprise for everybody,” admits Hawkes, 58, who will not only be playing such memorable classics as “Just What I Needed,” “Let’s Go,” “Drive” and “You Might Think” next to his surviving bandmates within the intimate confines of The Sound Academy Friday night, but helping the band push Move Like This, its first album of original songs in 24 years.

“I remember getting my call — maybe it was January of last year, or maybe before Christmas, I can’t quite remember — but Ric called up and just said, ‘What do you think of the idea of doing a Cars album?’ ”

Hawkes ended up convening at the Millbrook, N.Y. home Ocasek shares with his wife, the former supermodel Paulina Porizkova, before Easton and Robinson joined the proceedings to hear the new material.

“He played me 25 songs,” recalls Hawkes, calling Tuesday prior to a gig in Minneapolis.

“We went through them and whittled it down to a dozen. And then we got together with David and Elliott.”

Hawkes admits the inaugural sessions were approached with a touch of apprehension.

“Back in 1988, it was pretty easy to see why we stopped. A lot of the band members weren’t getting along at the time. I know that Ric and Ben weren’t getting along — and I still don’t exactly know why.

“Maybe we had exhausted what we could do at the time. We just naturally needed a break from each other.

“Maybe not one quite this long,” he chuckles, “But there you go.”

The animosity that had plagued them in the past had dissipated with time — consider this: they broke up before current chart-topper Adele was born — and Easton says the initial five days they spent together were pleasant and productive.

“We all kind of agreed to start small, and work on three songs together, just see how it goes. But it went really smoothly and we had a lot of fun, so we kept going until we had a whole album.”

Indeed, the sound of Move Like This, with a handful of songs produced by Garrett “Jacknife” Lee (R.E.M., Snow Patrol) is like hearing an old, familiar pal who has been away on an extended vacation: Ocasek’s gift for sprightly, punchy, radio-friendly melodies; golden riffs; crispy, economical arrangements and infectiously sparkling choruses hasn’t waned over the years. The album’s first single, “Sad Song,” is sitting in the Top 40 of Billboard‘s current Rock Songs chart, proving that The Cars’ Midas touch is still potent.

Hawkes said the idea to do a short 10-city tour was only decided “a few months ago,” and that there are no live plans past an August appearance at Lollapalooza.

But Hawkes, who plays bass keyboard parts to takes up the missing Orr’s duties, sounds hopeful that The Cars will extend the comeback.

“I’m hoping so. We don’t really have any plans as of yet, but so far things have been going so well that I don’t know why we wouldn’t continue.”


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