Dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dit. That steady guitar stream of staccato eighth notes is one of rock's few instantly recognizable signatures, and it's all over the first Cars studio album in 24 years. Given that the Boston-born band's clipped, cool vibe has always suggested the future even as it eventually signified New Wave nostalgia, it's little wonder that Move Like This comes on like a familiar blend of the past, the present and the great hereafter that's anxious and reassuring.
Although the quartet worked with Jacknife Lee — the Irish producer who helped shaped the hum of 21st-century rock through his collaborations with Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, U2 and others — on five of Move's 10 tracks, there's only minor tampering with the formula. Leader Ric Ocasek mostly focuses on dystopian themes: From the jumpy lead track "Blue Tip" to "Hit Me"'s concluding cry for reassurance, he sings repeatedly of a "they" who alternately represents the media, the government, or an Orwellian combination of the two that similarly passes comment and regulates control via fear.
This is a Cars album, though, so these weighty concerns are coupled with airtight choruses and neon-bright synth hooks. Aside from some heavier power chords on "Keep on Knocking" and a few digital tweaks throughout, the band's instrumental attack has changed as little as Ocasek's ageless voice. The sole sad difference is that late Cars bassist Benjamin Orr isn't singing half of the songs. (There's no doubt that his warmer, more tender croon would've been welcome on the "Drive"-like ballad "Soon.") Clearly mindful of their bandmate's absence, Ocasek and the others compensate with what ultimately comes across as a love letter to the band's own legacy. It picks up where 1984's blockbuster Heartbeat City left off, and that's one satisfying place to start.