The Cars
Heartbeat City



by DrJohn USER (41 Reviews)
June 29th, 2014 | 2 replies

Release Date: 1984 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Professionals?

Smith’s dwarf chameleon, is one of the few species in the chameleon family (contrary to popular belief), that can use its colour changing abilities to camouflage itself. It will turn green when around grass, brown when in dirt, white on sand, blue in the water; I am not sure they can work around water to be honest.

If I were asked about the Cars’ “Heartbeat City” before 2011, I would offer the following presumption:

If the Cars made their debut during the late 30s, they would have probably been portrayed as a big-band, playing swing. Reaching their commercial peak in the mid 40s, they would change label - vocal jazz perhaps. If Ric Ocasec were 20 years younger, the Cars self-titled rockabilly debut would have hit the shelves around 1958. By 1964 - even being an American band - their newest release, could be purchased in all record stores, under a big sign indicating “British Invasion”.

The fact: it was in 1984 “The Cars” reached the peak of their commercial success.

“Heartbeat city” could not have been anything else, than an 80’s pop record. The Cars by 1984 were not new-wave, art-rock, dance-rock, art-pop, pop-rock … they were a POP band, period. Tunes from “Heartbeat city” could easily fit (and did so) in the playlists of a mainstream radio station, before “She-Bop”, or after “Material-girl” - or between those, followed by one of the numerous singles, a Quincy Jones production, still going strong, materialised in two years earlier. A couple of years later the subsequent work of producer Robert John Lange, could certainly find leppards and chameleons coexisting under the same playlist, both still going strong.

Is pop bad?

Within each respective decade, the term “pop”, when examined as a derivative of popular, indicates impact or appeal on the generation included within the aforementioned ten year span. Believe It or not, the frantic improvisational geniuses of Dizzy or Bird were once popular… not as popular as Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra, but still...
What is of importance today though, is if tunes from eras past can still have a degree of impact or appeal. The '80s in particular had a distinctiveness, compared to previous decades. Technology, was playing a bigger role than ever before during the production of music; computers or computerized gadgets such as the fairlight CMI, were breaking into mainstream - that included big studios and big producers. Yet, “current technology” has a short life-span, and what is based around it -putting aside retro value or nostalgia- more often than not, ages badly.

Did “Heartbeat city” age badly?

Its synthesized soundscapes have aged pretty badly, yes… “Mutt” Lange overproduced 80s style, the *** out of four individuals (Greg Hawkes over produced/programmed himself with cmi). However, the melodic hooks, or the catchiness of the tunes in general, cannot be denied, plus, the lyrics are inventive yet sinister when it pertains to the subject of love, or obsession - that may go as far as stalking, substances or substance-abuse, or combinations of the above. Contextually, “Heartbeat city” aged better than the likes of “She’s so unusual”, maybe because an inventive way of encrypting love, stalkers or addictions in general, never gets old especially when the encryption key is radio compatible. On the other hand, girls not allowed to have fun, accompanied or not, ain’t such a big issue today as it was back in 1983.

Production wise -in hindsight truth be told- Lange never possessed the musical background or foresight of Quincy, so, sonically this album won’t carry the same appeal today. Still, I may find myself indulging in the likes of “Stranger Eyes” or “It’s not the night”. To be perfectly honest, the title track gives me an instant “healthy” fix. But I’m getting into subjective territory; I suggest that you give this a try, as you may find some guilty pleasure of your own here.

Now, with regard to more important matters - the life span of a male Chameleon may be up to 8 years. The Cars released their last 80s album in 1987, three years after “Heartbeat City”; their debut was in 1978. So, they lasted nine years in the industry; almost the life-span of a Chameleon - almost a generation. In 2011, following a prolonged hibernation, the product of a reunion was released. Retro heroes? Or cold-blooded species of the sub-order Iguania, slowly trying to adjust their colours in an effort to claim relevance by the new musical surroundings? Time and maybe a couple more albums will tell... If I was right; if The Cars truly were of the Smith’s dwarf variety - Effective, white collars that is.

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user ratings (55)

Comments:Add a Comment 
August 27th 2014


Album Rating: 3.5

better late than never

drive and magic are great tunes

August 2nd 2016


Drive is a total standout imo, nothing on this album touches it. Hell, nothing from their entire discog does.

Digging: ABC - The Lexicon of Love

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