For a band I like so much I haven’t got around to buying many LPs by The Cars. Sure I own Heartbeat City which was a major album for me as a late teen and I bought Door To Door for £1 once, but the only other one I have is Shake It Up, bought in November 1990 when I popped into a second-hand record shop on my way home from lectures* and I couldn’t find/afford anything I really wanted. Any sane person would simply have left, jingling the money in his/her pocket, me? I grabbed Shake It Up so as not to leave empty-handed. Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you won’t judge me/have done far worse in record shops.
Now I’d like to be able to tell you how, from that unpromising start, Shake It Up became a major cultural force in my life, how ‘This Could Be Love’ was the first dance at my wedding and how I now have that self-same copy framed above my fireplace. Like to, but I’d be lying a bit really. As I said, I love The Cars however, whilst it has a couple of great tracks on it, Shake It Up is just missing some of the magic glitter that the band were able to dust their best work with, there’s some real filler here. But since I’m a my-cup-is-half-MF-full kinda guy let’s accentuate the positives.
It’s 1981, the start of a brash, flash, crash (and burn) sorta decade, so how you going to open your new LP? very subtlety as it happens. ‘Since You’re Gone’ was a great choice, slinking in, a little worldly weary it has that 1537 fave combo of upbeat music and downbeat lyrics – I can never get enough of that. Rik Ocasek has a voice I just love, although I suspect that I like his voice for exactly the same reason I like Mark Knopfler’s, I can sing along without getting bettered or intimidated – try that with Rob Halford, or Kate Bush. He even throws a bit of a Dylan impression in, to my ears, Zimmermaning** the word ‘treacherous’, a treat.
‘Shake It Up’ does just that, yet another product of that perfect synth rock / new wave combo the band mined so well. Pure, simplistic good times party in abundance here with some proper Elliot Easton guitaring around the edges. How can you resist?
Dance all night whirl your hair
Make the night cats stop and stare
Dance all night go to work
Do the move with quirky jerk
As something of a quirky jerk myself, I just can’t. Moreover, why would you want to resist? Just surrender.
Best track on Shake It Up for my money is the heaviest, although that’s in purely relative terms^, ‘Cruiser’. Within its first line I’m instantly transported to a parallel universe where I’m as tall and skinny as Rik Ocasek, strutting into an impossibly cool Manhattan night spot and I tell you, those chicks with the big hair? they really dig me. It’s just something about that little intermittent synth tinkle that grabs me every time, although my son thinks it’s annoying – but what does he know about partying? or anything else?! Even if it wasn’t perfect in every other way ‘Cruiser’ would still net 1537 bonus points for the line ‘chrome red eyeballs reflect and roll’, never mind bands there are nations out there who have never come up with a line as cool as that!
Besides ‘Cruiser’ is also the only track I know*^ to sing the praises of the humble terrestrial gastropod mollusc – True story. Witness:
Flip the switches pull the plug
You always wait for better news
You need a hit you need a slug
You don’t easily get amused
For me that’s the highlights, although I have a lot of time for the poppy ‘A Dream Away’ and ‘I’m Not The One’. Apart from that though there is a bit of padding here and there and a couple of the more synth-orientated tracks sound a little samey to me. I think working with Mutt Lange next time around really refreshed the band and although Shake It Up is great in places, it is maybe the sound of a band and producer not quite being able to recapture that spark from the earlier albums.
*There were three second-hand record shops on my way home. My student grant and I didn’t stand a MF chance!
**copyrighted by me, glorious me. Feel free to use it, sending appropriate royalties to the usual address.
^a bit like being the toughest Bee Gee, or the tallest man in AC/DC^^
^^pre Highway To Hell.
*^apart from possibly ‘Slug Dub’ by The Orb.