Sure, looking through the jaded eyes of twenty years later, it's easy to diss the Cars as a glam pop band from the dreaded eighties. Too easy.
The truth of the matter is the Cars were a band so important in the evolution of rock that their influence still permeates today's pop landscape. What Ric Ocasek and the late Benjamin Orr did, along with bandmates Elliot Easton, David Robinson and Greg Hawkes, was take white bread pop, add a dash of German cabaret and infuse it all with a punk sensibility. As a result, their sound became the standard by which rock throughout the eighties was judged.
Then, too, was their look– the Cars took full advantage of the burgeoning influence of video in the pop culture arena. They didn't wear matching outfits, but they were color-coordinated, almost always wearing varying degrees of black, white, red and blue. Ocasek, invariably hiding behind Ray-Bans, looked like a demented Ichabod Crane, playing off the teen idol looks of Orr, the nerdy persona of Hawkes, and the beatnik hipster facades of Easton and Robinson. Combined, they presented an image of unified aloofness that struck a chord in the pop music world. Imitators came out of the woodwork, none of whom could muster more than one hit wonder stature.
The Cars Unlocked is an unbiased, non-linear look at the Cars, from the perspective of their live performances. Moving back and forth between performances from 1978 through 1987, the DVD shows the band's evolution from club gigs to sold-out stadium concerts. That the video clips are largely left "as is" makes this documentary more enticing, in an odd way. There's been no attempt to digitally enhance ancient VHS footage, which lends it more historical credence. There are amusing backstage tidbits here, too — particularly a segment entitled "Dr. G," in which a supposed rock journalist for the Denver Post makes an utter ass of himself with his pretensious, chemically-inspired interview approach.
But since this is a documentary that tells its story through concert footage, it's the performances that must carry the story. All the hits are here, obviously, and they're mostly performed in the time frame in which they originated. We see and hear an early club rendition of "My Best Friend's Girl," as well as a thundering performance of "Candy-O", as performed by the veteran, well-seasoned version of the band. There are twenty live performances in all, interlaced with interview segments, anecdotal dressing room scenes, and soundcheck footage. Five bonus live videos are also included on the disc, as well as a rather utilitarian photo booklet that also includes snippets of lyrics.
As interesting as all that is, The Cars Unlocked also comes packaged with a full-length, first-ever live CD. Digitally remastered, the disc showcases the band at its zenith, and the fourteen performances rank with the best of live albums. The Cars were often oblique, but as a live act, they were incredibly tight.
Anyone who remembers the Cars cannot say they were not, at one time or another, a fan. For better or worse, they were a band that left an indelible footprint on the face of pop culture, the echoes of which can still be heard in the current strata. The Cars Unlocked is a time capsule that proves the eighties weren't that bad, after all.