Gary Numan: Cars UK CD5 
- Cars [’93 Sprint]
- Cars [Multivalve]
- Cars [Classic]
- Cars [Endurance]
- Cars [Top Gear]
- Cars [Motorway Mix]
- Cars [E. Reg]
Back in the lean years of ’88-’95 for Gary Numan, I made it a policy to buy all CD singles that trickled out for him. Just to keep an eye on what was going down with him. 1993 was the point just before things were getting very interesting again for Numan during a doldrum period in his career. I had loved the “Skin Game” CD5 that had come out the previous year. Don’t let anyone tell you that there was nothing good about the much maligned “Machine + Soul” album, which I would not hear for another five years when the “Numa Years” box was released. So when his next CD5 came down the pike, I bought it as usual.
I was visiting Murmur records, which had probably morphed into Alobar Books + Music by that point, when I saw a CD5 with seven mixes of “Cars.” The venerable synth rock classic has been given a coat of post-modern remix wax previously in 1987, to signal the “Exhibition” compilation, and five years later, it was time for another stab at a compilation by his label with the imaginatively titled “The Best Of Gary Numan ’78-’83” which at least told people exactly what to expect. While the earlier mixes were at the hands of Zeus B. Held, this time French technophiles Native Soul had control of the board.
“Cars” was an odd duck of a single. Undeniably catchy and novel in its day, it really didn’t follow the hard and fast rules of pop. The classic 1979 version was a fine record, but not one without problems for me, due to the rules it breaks willy-nilly. It has a 30 second intro, several verses from 0:30 – 1:30, an instrumental chorus [a trick OMD also liked to use] and then for 2:25 the song just vamps on its distinctive riff until it fades, about 0:30 late for these ears. I can live with the first three, but I always felt that the original overstayed its welcome. How would these new attempts at mixing it fare?
The ’93 Sprint mix had a new rhythm section , sustained chords and a modest coat of rave paint. The biggest positive difference to my ears was the return of Numan with a repeat of the first two verses midway thorough what was a 2:25 instrumental vamp on the other 7″ versions. That was a nice break from the riffage monotony. The Multivalve Mix was the chilled out dub reggae scented mix that no one had ever asked for. The only factor from the original version that was employed here was Numan’s voice from the verses. The meter of the phrasing was aired with a little dead air out here to match the slower pace of the new rhythm track. Better than the telltale pitch shift that used to accompany tempo alteration, but still nothing to write home about with its staccato sound. When they start manipulating an abstract sample of Numan’s vocals half the way through – one of my least favorite 90s dance tropes – I start looking at the “FF” button. Missable. Very.
The Endurance Mix had more of a house feel with an overlong buildup that didn’t really pay off for me. After two minutes there was a clumsy drop where the original oscillating synth intro we all know and love began the song in earnest. The synth percussion was much meeker than the original version, so that’s another strike. It only got remotely interesting when the mix took a turn to modest acid near the end. The Top Gear mix was simply an instrumental version of the Endurance Mix minus the two minute buildup. I can’t say any of these Native Soul remixes did much for me though they are far from being worst of breed 90s remixes. I’ve heard far worse.
So it came as a relief when the last two, superior 1987 remixes surfaced at the end of the program. I previously had the delightfully ambient Motorway Mix on the “Asylum 2” Japanese boxed set from 1990. It was still a winner here with its airy, wide open, sampled dubspace. It was so different, yet clearly reflective of the original. Better still, it didn’t follow any dance trends per se. It was the product of Zeus B. Held, who brings a very musical sensibility to the job. Next came the E. Reg version. This was ultimately, the reason why I held onto this CD5 all of these years.
The E. Reg model was not on the “Asylum 2” boxed set, only the extended E. Reg model was, so it was nice to finally get this robust remix of the classic tune. The slightly shorter remix took the raw materials of the Numan production and polished it to the typical Zeus B. Held high gloss. Long had I felt that Numan should work with outside producers as his work tends to be too insular for its own good some times. I find his classic mix flat next to the increased dynamic of the E. Reg mix. I love the groovy sampled hook that Held added. The drums were far punchier, the synths more massive, and Numan’s vocals were toughened up with a bit of chorus and EQ to make them pop from the mix. Even though the mix kept the same pacing of the classic mix [0:30 intro, 0:60 verses, instrumental chorus], it shaved 10 seconds off of the long instrumental vamp to fade that was the song’s waterloo to notable effect. Though if the original mix had sounded this dynamic, maybe I wouldn’t have begrudged its being instrumental for over half of its length. There would be many more versions of “Cars,” but I got off of the bus with this third try.
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