Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review of The Cars' "Candy-O"

I posted this review on SputnikMusic.com about an hour ago.

The Cars are one of the more enduring bands from rock's new wave era. An American band from Boston, they helped to bridge the gap from the guitar-driven album rock style of the mid-'70s to the synth-pop single-friendly rock of the '80s. Candy-O was their second album, following a little less than a year after their popular debut album The Cars. While the first album was a little more of a critical success, Candy-O charted higher in the U.S. (#3 compared to #18), and its most successful single, "Let's Go", charted higher than the most successful single from the eponymous album, "Just What I Needed" (#14 compared to #27). Candy-O is also notable for its cover art, a picture of a sexy young redheaded woman sprawled across the hood of a car, drawn by the famous pinup artist Alberto Varga.

It's actually kind of hard to write a review about Candy-O without comparing it to The Cars. This is because the basic sound of The Cars' first two albums is very similar, leading some critics to complain that Candy-O was too much a case of more-of-the-same compared to its predecessor. Both albums rely heavily on slow, chunky guitars, meandering synthesizers, and half-spoken vocals by either Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr. Compared to earlier '70s rock, the songs are shorter, poppier and more minimalistic on both albums. 

One thing that interests me about The Cars compared to many of the British new wave bands of the same period is that while the British acts often sought to attract a more mixed or even a primarily female audience, The Cars were clearly seeking to appeal primarily to straight young males. Eschewing the grander and more sweeping themes of earlier bands like The Who or Pink Floyd, The Cars' lyrics were almost a return to those of bands like The Beach Boys -- they sang mostly about girls, and to a lesser extent about cars. Unlike The Beach Boys, though, who focused mainly on wholesome, tanned beach girls, The Cars in this period specialized in writing about charismatic wild women -- the kind of femme fatale you know will crush your heart like a paper cup, but you can't help being enthralled by anyway. Examples include the beautiful, barefoot 17-year-old with the risque eyes from "Let's Go", the leading lady with the crossword smile of "The Dangerous Type", and of course, the album's title character (with her Sunday dress and her ruby rings), "Candy-O", as well as the women who were the subjects of such songs as "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" on the previous album.

"Let's Go" is clearly the album's best number. Right from the intro, there's a feeling of excitement about the song, as we join the singer in following after the always-in-motion subject of his admiration while she moves from one place to another, because "she never waits too long." To his credit, our hero doesn't want to cage his lady love, or even to slow her down. He just follows, breathlessly, as she continually beckons him, "Let's go," all the while declaring "I like the nightlife baby". Its no wonder the band made this not only the first single released from Candy-O, but also the first song on the album.

In addition to "Let's Go," two other singles were released from this album, "Double Life", which went nowhere on the charts, and is actually one of the more boring numbers, and "It's All I Can Do", a kind of mechanical mid-tempo track that I've always liked. "Candy-O", which was the climax of Side 1 on the original vinyl release of the album, and "Dangerous Type" are also strong songs that received significant FM airplay. Even "Lust for Kicks", a quirky number about a decadent, pleasure-seeking couple, got (and still gets) occasional airplay.

In 2017, more than thirty-five years after its release, Candy-O definitely still has its niche. I can't say it's one of the great albums of all time, like Led Zeppelin IVQuadrophenia by The Who, or even Blondie's Parallel Lines. What it is, though, is a fun, solid album by a band that has a place in at least the second-tier of rock music history. And that's not too bad.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars