I posted this review this afternoon on the Sputnik Music website:
Here's the truth about The Cars' first five albums -- there's not all that much difference between them. I don't mean this in a derogatory way. I'm a fan of the band. Always have been, always will be. But in terms of both style and quality, they're all close to being equal. The general consensus is probably that the first, the second and the fifth (The Cars -- 1978, Candy-O -- 1979, and Heartbeat City -- 1984) are maybe a half-a-cut better than the third and fourth (Panorama -- 1980 and Shake It Up -- 1981), due to having a few more top-flight songs on them. But it's close. Chances are, if you like one, you'd like them all, and vice versa. Panorama vs. Shake It Up is almost a coin toss. I slightly prefer the first, but we're talking very slightly. As far as sales went, Shake It Up did a little better than Panorama, going double-platinum to the latter's single-platinum, but neither of them sold as well as the other three LPs. Panorama made it slightly higher in the Billboard charts, reaching a high of #5, compared to Shake It Up's #9. However, as you can see, we're talking about very small differences here.
So what you're dealing with in Shake It Up, then, is nine more songs done in the classic Cars manner -- new-wave music done American style. There's a little more chunky guitar than you'll find in the British dance-pop bands of the same era, but still plenty of synthesizer to go around. The lyrics continue to be mostly about relationships with hot and fascinating women, but as usual for this band, not in the kind of smarmy way you'll find in the lyrics of most of the '80s guitar-dominated bands -- they're not so much "hot for teacher" as they are "victims of love". And, as on most Cars albums, Ric Ocasek sings about two thirds of the lead vocals, with Benjamin Orr carrying the other third.
So what distinguishes Shake It Up from the other four albums" Well, there is the title track, which was the band's most successful single in the U.S. up until that point, coming in at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It's an upbeat, catchy number, with some good synth and guitar work, that I imagine must have been pretty popular in eighties dance clubs everywhere. There's also "Since You're Gone", the album's opening number, which likewise made the singles charts, albeit in a significantly lower position. And I'm kind of partial to "I'm Not the One," a slower, Orr-sung track with some tinkly, merry-go-round synthesizer. The album's Wikipedia entry claims that Shake It Up is "much more pop-oriented" than was Panorama, but that might be a little overstated. Overall, it's a simply a basic Cars LP, from when The Cars were still The Cars.
This band had a nice little run for themselves from 1978 until 1984, churning out five solid albums in a row that have stood the test of time. They weren't the dominant band of their time period, but they were strong enough that their music is still fondly remembered today. Shake It Up didn't really stand out from their other LPs of this era, but it certainly carried its weight. If you like The Cars at all, it's worth a listen.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars