It seems to me the best way to review a DVD/CD package is to critique it in three parts. With my eye (and ear) on the video, CD and written/booklet materials of the new Cars Unlocked package, follow me now to the sights and sounds of the ‘original’ Cars in their ‘new wavy’ heyday. Unlocked is culled from various Cars live performances and backstage antics. I like how the DVD jumps from early performances in the late '70s to those many years later. The viewer will enjoy the Cars’ changing fashions as much as their changing instruments. We get a first-hand peak into how popular the Cars eventually became with their MTV-bolstered hits, moving from clubs to arenas and beyond.
What becomes most apparent from this DVD more than the CD is how often Benjamin Orr actually sang lead vocals. I usually think of the Cars as Ric Ocasek’s band, and for the most part he penned most of the hits, but when one is confronted with the visual record you come away with the sense of how important Orr was in the overall sound and look of the band…and you tend to miss the guy all the more. For the most part, the various backstage stuff, grainy as it is (a disclaimer appears on the DVD explaining that these images were recorded way back when) is bit thin. I would have liked more of it, beyond the band members jumping around and making faces. But then again, there might simply not to be much of this stuff available, so I guess we have to be happy with what we can get. The live performances are great though, while the DVD extras are OK — simply some alternate performances of songs and a few not part of the main set. Overall, the sound is good and for the most part the concert footage is really well covered (from what I can gather there is even some US Festival footage here).
The CD part of Unlocked features the Cars live, a first for them! Though the promo materials boast direct sound board mixes of the tunes I find the mix OK at best, there’s just something missing and after repeated listenings I ‘m still not all that sure what it is! Greg Hawks’ keys are sometimes a bit too blaring, while Orr’s bass is lost at times, but the band plays well on each track — from “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” (though played at a much quicker tempo then the original recording) to a staid version of “Drive” (my personal fave in the Cars canon and a disappointment here). As the CD is really a audio representation of what’s on the DVD with performances taken from shows over the years — though presented as a continuous set. Maybe all the band’s antics and interactions have been exorcized from this CD, but from what I know about them — and I admit I never saw them in their day but I know people who did — the Cars weren't really big on theatrics or interaction anyway. If you’re looking for jamming or patter, you best stay clear of this CD. But for fans, this is the first-ever live Cars CD is a well performed audio document of the band.
The final piece of the set is the inside booklet and pics. As DVD sets are becoming ever more elaborate these days and boast proudly of their booklets and unreleased pics, I think it's worth reviewing this ‘part’ of Unlocked with as critical an eye. The 28-page photo lyric book is well put together, but really nothing special. Sure there are photos, in that slightly washed-out, afore mentioned black and white “new wavy” style, but for a few instances there’s nothing truly inspired here visually. And a ‘lyrical’ booklet this surely is not; only a handful or Cars songs are printed here, with mainly the first verse of the ones that are. I know this is a minor point — it really is about the DVD and CD — but I do believe to truly review the entire Unlocked thang I must comment on how that whole thang is presented, especially when the back cover brags about the lyric/photo booklet as if this is a main feature.
Overall, Unlocked is a solid document of what the ‘original’ Cars was all about: catchy songwriting from Ric Ocasek; some intelligent pop arrangements of keyboard and guitar counterpoint (I still think Elliot Easton is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock); solid simple time-keeping from David Robinson and that sexy, very-much-missed voice-and-presence of Benjamin Orr. With this DVD and CD we can see and hear really why this band were the champions of late 70s, mid 80s MTV-bred tunes. Unlocked is a must for Cars fans.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.