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February 15, 1996 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily, 1996-02-15

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68 - The Michigan Daily - Wede4", eU. - Thursday, February 15, 1996

0

Rhino box sets resurrect the New Wave '80s

By Heather Phares
Daily Arts Writer
Ah, the '80s - a time of conspicu-
ous consumption, cheesy teen com-
edies, greed and some lethally bad
hairdos. As the '90s begin to wane
and the millenium hovers ever nearer,
nostalgia for the "Me Decade" be-
comes more and more a part of cur-
rent pop culture.
While there's no organized move-
ment like the Seventies Preservation
Society working to keep the plastic,
fantastic '80s in our hearts, judging
by the ever-multiplying amount of
anthologies, greatest hits and box sets,
it's safe to say that fond memories for
the music of that decade have as long
a life as unrecycled styrofoam.
Rhino Records, a company with
fond memories of all kinds of music,
is the closest thing to an '80s music
preservation society that we have.
Along with their extensive '70s hits
and "frat-rock" collections, one of
their most popular and in-depth an-
thology series is "Just Can't Get
Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s,"

now up to 15 volumes. Rhino is also
famous for their intricate box sets, of
which "The Cars Anthology: Just
What I Needed" (****y ) is just
one of the most recent. True to the
Rhino tradition, both collections are
beautifully packaged (especially the
Cars box featuring hot-rod flames and
a grille on sparkly purple plastic) and
pack together a diverse collection of
hits and rare tracks.
"Just What I Needed" does double-
duty as a greatest hits package and a
collection of rare and previously
unreleased tracks. At 40 songs, the fact
that "Just What I Needed" hangs to-
gether as well as it does is as much a
tribute to the Cars' music as it is to the
people who chose and sequenced the
tracks for the box.
Disc One of "Just What I Needed"
covers much of the group's first two
albums - their self-titled debut from
1978 and 1979's "Candy-O," on which
the Cars' new wave/punk roots are
prominent. Disc Two features the band's
more mainstream middle and lateryears,
stretching from 1980's "Panorama" to

their final album "Door to Door," re-
leased in 1987.
The selections on "Just What I
Needed" are uniformly entertaining.
Hearing the band progress from the
stripped-down new wave of "Just What
I Needed," to the power-pop of "My
Best Friend's Girl," to the synth-driven
minimalism of "Good Times Roll" and
"Moving In Stereo" in a matter of min-
utes shows just how underrated the
group's musical range is.
This versatility helps explain the
Cars' popularity with both fans of
punk and new wave as well as fans of
mainstream rock during the late '70s
and early '80s. Even on songs as
streamlined and synthesized as
"Double Life," the songwriting is so
tight that the group's artier tenden-
cies embellish rather than depart from
the pop format.
As the Cars grew more and more
mainstream musically, those weird,
off-kilter bits like the droning and
burbling synthesizers on "You Might
Think" and "Magic" refreshed their
songwriting. And although they be-
came a pop group in their later years,
they aged gracefully: "Drive" and
"Tonight She Comes" are two of the
best examples ofmid-'80s mainstream
pop that you can find.
The odds and sods on "Just What I
Needed," however, reveal the Cars as
a great pop group with a knack for
pushing the envelope. As out-there as
they get (hint: there's a song called
"The Little Black Egg") the band al-
ways lands with its feet securely on
pop's terra firma.
The aforementioned "The Little
Black Egg" sounds like a Martian
take on the basic Buddy Holly guitar-
jangle. "Funtime" shows the group's
roots in David Bowie/Lou Reed-style
minimalism, and an early version of
"Nightspots" pays homage to Wire's
robotic punk. The demos from the
Cars' earliest days show that from the
beginning, the group had the ballads
("Take Me Now") and the rockers
("Leave or Stay," "Slipaway") to con-
quer the charts and win a diverse and
devoted fanbase.
That fan base includes the Pixies'
Frank Black (who has cited the Cars
as a major influence on his
songwriting) and Weezer's Rivers
Cuomo and Matt Sharp (whose Rent-
als share the same affinity for a cool
keyboard that the Cars did back in the
day). The band's influence can also
be felt in the production work that

Cars leader Ric Ocasek is currently
involved in; he's twiddled knobs for
Weezer and Mercury Rev among oth-
ers. "Just What I Needed" is indeed
necessary for anybody interested in
the Cars' influential music.
As far as "Just Can't Get Enough:
New Wave Hits of the '80s" ( ****)
goes, if you still can't get enough of
new wave after listening to the five
latest volumes of the collection, get
help. The 90 songs that comprise vol-
umes 11-15 of this series ought to
more than fulfill anyone's need for
shiny pop tunes.
As with the other ten discs in the
"Just Can't Get Enough" series,
there's plenty of hits, near-hits and
misses to keep your ears entertained.
It's this variety that separates the
Rhino collection from those sold-
only-on-TV "Best of Totally Awe-
some '80s" skimpy two-disc collec-
tions. Not only can you reminisce to
Big Country's "In a Big Country,"
Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon"
and Animotion's "Obsession," you
can hear new wave oddities like
Felony's "The Fanatic" and "Any-
where With You" by Rubber Rodeo
for probably the first time.
"Just Can't Get Enough" catalogues
the entire spectrum of bands that fall
under the new wave heading. These
bands include balladeers like Spandau
Ballet, synth-pop groups like Yaz and
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, girl
groupslike Bananarama and the Flirts,
artsy groups like Echo and the
Bunnymen and the Dream Academy,
novelty acts like Murray Head ("One
Night In Bangkok") and Paul
Hardcastle ("19"), and relatively

i-I

.A,

The Cars' new Rhino box set is just what you needed.

straight-ahead pop/rock acts like
Squeeze, the Fixx and the Romantics.
As big as this list is, it still doesn't
contain all the different new wave
mutations included in this massive
and mostly consistent collection.
While this collection of '80s hits
doesn't shine quite as brightly as some
of the earlier volumes in the "Just
Can't Get Enough" series, it certainly
does sum up the end of the new wave
era; after the mid-'80s, pop music and
experimentalism went their separate
ways - the former straight to the top
of the charts, the latter back to its
natural habitat of college radio and
underground record labels.
Some of the artists featured in the col-
lection, like Aimee Mann (of 'Til Tues-
day), Echo and the Bunnymen, Nik

Kershaw, Cabaret Voltaire and the Red
Hot Chili Peppers went on to help create
what was to become the alternative music
scene; a few others like Culture Club an4
Duran Duran went on to mega-stardom.
But most, like Haysi Fantayzee and
Belouis Some, were one-hit wonders that
left little in their wake but old drum
machines and used-up cans of hairspray
-and of course, their songs. The robotic
beats, jangly guitars, shiny keyboards
and (most importantly) sense of humor
that most new wave bands brought to
their music are worthwhile not only for
themselves, but in the way they continue
to inspire current acts like No Doubt,
Elastica, Possum Dixon and Pulp... all of
whom are featured on Rhino's "Abso-
lutely Honest-to-Goodness'90s," due out
in just a few short months. Fer sure.
Comedian Coen hits
Mainstreet Comedy
Jack Coen is back for another round of
comedy at the Mainstreet Comedy
Showcase in Ann Arbor this weekend,
following up his performance there last
June. Coen has appeared on "The
Tonight Show" with (Johnny Carson
and) Jay Leno more times than any
other comedian, as well as "Comic
Strip Live," A & E's "An Evening at the
improv," Showtime's "Comedy Club
Allstars" with Woody Harrelson, MTV's
"Just For Laughs" broadcast and,
strangely enough, Ted Koppel's
"Nightline." Coen writes his own new
material for each appearance, unlike
most comedians. He also got a job on
the writing team for Gary Shandling's
hilarious "The Larry Sanders Show" on
HBO, ,and "is considered one of the'
best prolific comedy writers In the
television industry." "Nightline" was
looking for comics who were making
jokes about the Clinton-gays-in-the-
military issue when they found Coen.
He then emerged as one in the push of
funnymen who share their political
commentary in their acts. Beginning
his career in early 1980, he became a
regular at the Hollywood improvisation
in 1987 and his career took off from
there. Showtimes are: Feb. 15 at 8:30
p.m., and Feb. 16 and Feb. 17 at 8:30
and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $12; for
more information and reservations, call
(313) 996-9080.

'il Tuesday, led by Aimee Mann (center), appears on Rhino's latest release in the
"Just Can't Get Enough" series.

SPECIAL ADVANCE SCREENING

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