[Review] The Cars: Heartbeat City (1984)

Mutt Lange works his multiplatinum magic again as The Cars release the most sucksassfull album of their carears. (I’ll spellcheck that later.)

Kronomyth 5.0: She’s a Beatitude.

Mutt the hell?! That was my initial reaction to this record, although I hadn’t heard Beatitude yet so I was still expecting the chaser to Shake It Up. Mutt Lange was probably the hottest producer on the planet at this point, having helmed Back In Black, Foreigner’s 4 and Pyromania. The resulting record was exquisitely fussed over, hugely successful and soulless down its back-in-the-black beating heart.

I didn’t think it was possible for a band as popular as The Cars to sell out, but (hello again) it happens on Heartbeat City. Yes, the record includes “Magic,” “Drive” and “You Might Think,” three songs that rank right along with the band’s better ideas. But The Cars’ engine trouble began with Beatitude. Then again, I seem to be in the minority on this one (in the minority of middle-aged music bloggers with autism, anyway, which would describe the majority of us). An AMG reviewer found in “Looking For Love” a should-have-been hit of “breezy pop,” for example. Me, I’d have to be standing in a desert for an awfully long time before I thought that. (The same reviewer goes on to call “Why Can’t I Have You” a “moderately paced love song,” which is the least you can say about a song and still say something.)

The shift to synthesizer band is nearly complete under Lange’s direction; there’s hardly enough in these arrangements to keep one guitarist busy let alone two. While the music takes a backseat, The Cars did seize on the music video format to release a handful of interesting videos, three of which landed in MTV’s Top 20 videos of 1984. Among these was the video for “Drive,” which almost single-handedly fed the demand for a Benjamin Orr solo album (The Lace, released in 1986). I also recall reading somewhere that Ric Ocasek met his supermodel wife on the set of one of their videos (they must have been shooting at night).

Ultimately, Heartbeat City is more caricature than Cars. It’s the band the way the rest of the world saw them, and not the way the people who listened to “Moving in Stereo” on headphones a hundred times (i.e., their original fans) heard them. Then again, bands must be sick to death of inflexible loyalists who defend a Panorama and then pan a Heartbeat City. The idea of handing Lange the keys to The Cars is an interesting, even a bold, move. And better to celebrate the success of Heartbeat City with the world than commiserate with the wounded over Beatitude.

Read more Cars reviews

Original elpee version

A1. Hello Again (3:47)
A2. Looking For Love (3:52)
A3. Magic (3:57)
A4. Drive (3:55)
A5. Stranger (4:26)*
B1. You Might Think (3:04)
B2. It’s Not The Night (Ric Ocasek/Greg Hawkes) (3:49)
B3. Why Can’t I Have You (4:04)
B4. I Refuse (3:16)
B5. Heartbeat City (4:31)*

All songs written by Ric Ocasek unless noted.
* Cassette version lists A5 as “Stranger Eyes” and B5 as “Jacki.”

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Hello Again (remix version)
12. Drive (demo)
13. One More Time (early version of “Why Can’t I Have You”)
14. Baby I Refuse (early vesion of “I Refuse”)
15. Jacki (early version of “Heartbeat City”)
16. Breakaway
17. Tonight She Comes

The Players

Elliot Easton (guitar, vocals), Greg Hawkes (keyboards, vocals, Fairlight CMI programming), Ric Ocasek (vocals, guitar), Ben Orr (vocals, bass), David Robinson (drums, Fairlight CMI programming) with Andy Topeka (Fairlight CMI programming). Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and The Cars; recording engineered by Nigel Green; mixing engineered by Mike Shipley; production assistance by Andy Topeka, David Heglmeier, Steve Rance.

The Pictures

Cover design by David Robinson. Cover painting by Peter Phillips. Art direction by HSU/Cathy Henszey. Photography by Doris Kloster/George Holz.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on March 13, 1984 in the US (Elektra, 60296-1/4), the UK and Germany (Elektra, 960 296), Canada (Elektra, 96 02961/4), Japan (Elektra, P-11463) and Yugoslavia (Suzy, ELK602961) with gatefold cover; reached #3 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 4x platinum record) and #25 on the UK charts. Also released on compact disc in July 1984 in the US (Elektra, 960296-2).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in Japan (Elektra, 20P2-2429).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on November 22, 2006 in Japan (Elektra, WPCR-75252).
  3. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee and super audio compact disc on June 27, 2016 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-442/UDSACD 2163).
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2018 in the US (Elektra) with 7 bonus tracks.

1 thought on “[Review] The Cars: Heartbeat City (1984)

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been looking far and wide for negative reviews of this album, and I finally found someone who feels like I do. In recent years, I’ve come back to the first four cars albums, and I keep listening to them over and over. I give this one a listen every once in awhile, and it never does anything for me. The three big hits are all pretty good songs, but they seem detached somehow, and the rest of it just bites, except for the oddly effective title track. The thud of the electronic drums (if you can even call them drums) is a sonic nightmare, and choppy, clunky songs like “Hello Again,” “Stranger Eyes,” and “It’s Not The Night” were never good to begin with and are now downright embarrassing to listen to.

    What did the Cars lose when they made Heartbeat City? They lost their mood, they lost their groove, and they lost their sense of mystery. I don’t care how much money they made, and I certainly don’t care about the videos. The only significance of videos, no matter how well-crafted they were, is that millions of kids watched them at the same time. And what did we all get out of it? Nothing. This album is an exercise in emptiness–a reflection of the time in which it was made.

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