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Posted at 12:24 PM ET, 05/10/2011

Quick spins: The Cars, Raphael Saadiq, Matthew Morrison

The Cars

“More Like This”

Make no mistake, the Cars were a great singles band. The quintet came roaring out of the Boston club scene in 1978 and went on to place 13 songs in the Top 40 through 1986. But rarely does one enter into a debate on which side of, say, “Heartbeat City” is a more cohesive listening experience. In fact, the band wrote some of the lousiest album filler in rock history.

Which brings up “Move Like This,” the first time in 22 years that leader Ric Ocasek and the rest of the original lineup — except for bassist Benjamin Orr, who passed away in 2000 — have worked together. The quartet of 50-year-old-plus rockers has no trouble summoning the spirit of earlier work . . . except for the great singles part.

Those that choose to dance to “Move Like This” — and one imagines only the die-hardest Cars fans giving it a try — will basically be doing wooden, side-to-side movements and awkward, semi-deep knee bends. Ocasek has proven his gift for sleek, melodic songwriting many times, but the hooks here are as inspiring as their titles: “Too Late,” “Drag on Forever,” “Keep on Knocking,” “Hits Me,” and you get the point.

Certainly Orr’s vocals would have helped break the monotony, as even on the two liveliest tracks (“Sad Song” and “Blue Tip”) Ocasek’s talk-singing can be charitably described as detached. So, while there is little of the Cars distinctive hit-making on “Move Like This,” the songs should serve the band well on its upcoming tour: a good time for fans to head to the bathroom, or to grab a quick nap so they can be refreshed for “My Best Friend’s Girl.”

— Patrick Foster

Recommended tracks: “Blue Tip,” “Too Late,” “Sad Song”

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Raphael Saadiq

“Stone Rollin’”

Soul revivalist Raphael Saadiq credits “people who love music” as executive producer on his latest solo album, and that’s certainly the audience, as opposed to hipsters or tastemakers, that the former Tony! Toni! Tone! mainstay has cultivated throughout his career. Not concerned with whether his records will be dubbed retro or old school, Saadiq exults in the glories of ’60s and ’70s R&B, keeping the music alive and often producing the epiphanies that such devotion repays.

The album-opening “Heart Attack,” for example, combines a vintage Chess Records-style echo with chank-a-lank funk guitar and a gutbucket groove reminiscent of Junior Walker’s “Shotgun.” The result is a dance workout that, by virtue of the sum of its parts, feels like a whole new thing. “Radio,” the record’s first single, dirties up its gospel-born call-and-response with a shot of neo-garage-rock testosterone. “Over You,” a pleading ballad, overlays Wall of Sound strings and big-beat drums with punk angst.“Day Dreams,” meanwhile, features an unlikely combination of Solomon Burke-style recitation and postmodern-blues groove and attitude. Exuding sex, the album’s title track crosses echo-drench harmonica with biting swamp-blues guitar and a howling, declamatory vocal.

All of the music here is as effortless as it is inspiring, and much of it sounds familiar, at least on first listen. What keeps it from being merely retro, though, is the abandon with which Saadiq avails himself of his source material — and the verve he brings to both his songwriting and performing.

— Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks: “Heart Attack,” “Radio,” “Stone Rollin’ ”

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Matthew Morrison

“Matthew Morrison”

As good as Matthew Morrison’s self-titled debut is, it’s hard to imagine it would ever have been released if Morrison didn’t star as dreamy Mr. Schue on “Glee.” An appealingly dorky, commercially dubious, family-friendly pop offering, it recalls a long-lost Robbie Williams disc or a Justin Timberlake album without the electro-R&B. Or the sex: “Matthew Morrison” is as well-scrubbed a mainstream release as you’re likely to hear all year.

Morrison started out on Broadway, and the bigger and more belty the songs get, the more comfortable he seems. His solo numbers are fine, such as the wages-of-fame lament “My Name” (“I didn’t mean to disappoint / But I’m not who you think I am”), but he’s better with company. 

Sting, whose career Morrison would have been wise to emulate, if careers like Sting’s still existed, shows up for a great retake of the former Police frontman’s “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot.” Elsewhere, Morrison duets with frequent “Glee” guest star Gwyneth Paltrow (who sounds just fine) on a cheery, calypso-fied, Disney-cartoon version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and with Elton John on “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters/Rocket Man.” 

The latter is a strange animal: More than a song but less than a medley, it’s an unwieldy, in-between . . . thing. But it’s evidence that Morrison can hold his own next to John, whose upper register isn’t what it used to be.

— Allison Stewart

Recommended tracks: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “My Name”

By Patrick Foster, Bill Friskics-Warren and Allison Stewart  |  12:24 PM ET, 05/10/2011

Categories:  Quick spins | Tags:  The Cars, Raphael Saadiq, Matthew Morrison

 
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