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The Cars gear up for a comeback

By Ed Payne, CNN
New wave rockers The Cars are back on the road for the first time in 25 years.
New wave rockers The Cars are back on the road for the first time in 25 years.
  • The Cars begin an 11-city, coast-to-coast tour Tuesday
  • The new album is called "Move Like This"
  • Bass player and vocalist Ben Orr died from cancer in 2000
  • The band formed in Boston in 1976

(CNN) -- New Wave rockers The Cars are on the road again, the first time in nearly 25 years. Their mission? To bring their brand of quirky, syncopated pop music to a new generation.

The new album "Move Like This" hits shelves, or your favorite download site, Tuesday -- the same day the band begins an 11-city, coast-to-coast tour.

So, how does the new model of The Cars sound?

"I think it sounds like The Cars in 2011," keyboardist Greg Hawkes said of the band that formed in Boston in 1976. "It sounds like a modern album, yet it sounds like The Cars."

It's hard to argue with Hawkes. The first two songs -- "Blue Tip" and "Sad Song" -- off the new album sound instantly familiar. The Cars always have been a bouncy combination of understated guitars, layered synthesizers, punchy rhythm section and songwriter Ric Ocasek's often-cryptic lyrics dancing among them.

The genesis of the project began nearly a year and a half ago.

"I think about January of last year, I got a call from Ric saying, 'What do you think about doing a Cars album?' I was surprised to say the least," Hawkes said.

As lead singer and primary songwriter, Ocasek was key to any Cars reunion.

"I think he sort of had a lot of songs that he had written and was sort of getting a backlog of material," Hawkes said. "I think he was just thinking that a lot of them just might work in the context of a new Cars album."

Ocasek stayed busy in the interim years, recording six solo projects and producing albums by a variety of artists, including Weezer, Guided by Voices and Bad Religion.

The Cars were a radio staple in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with hits like "Just What I Needed," "Drive," and "You Might Think." The band's eye-catching videos also were a hit in MTV's formative years.

The combination fueled more than 23 million in U.S. album sales, according to figures tallied by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The recording sessions were the first for the band since bass player and vocalist Ben Orr died from cancer in 2000, making The Cars a four-piece band. In addition to Hawkes and Ocasek, the other original members are Elliot Easton on guitar and drummer David Robinson.

"We missed him a lot," Hawkes said. "We were talking about him a lot during the time that we were recording. His presence was definitely missed."

In Orr's absence, Hawkes took over bass duties in the studio.

The Cars enlisted producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee for the project, who like Ocasek had worked with Weezer, to get the band motoring again.

"To have an outside producer helped," according to Hawkes. "It was a good way to get us working with each other."

The result is 10 new Cars songs, half produced by Lee and the rest by the band.

The trick with The Cars, Hawkes said, is for each member to add their own musical personality to the Ocasek-penned songs.

"I usually go in with a few sort of things that I want to do or try," he said. "The other inspiration sort of comes from spur of the moment kind of messing with sounds and seeing what fits with the track as it gets created."

But will any of their old fans be waiting after a quarter-century hiatus?

"I guess there is that danger," acknowledged Hawkes, who said he's up for the challenge of trying "to win over some new ones."

The Cars also are attempting their comeback in a music industry that has largely imploded since the band's last album in 1987. The companies that market music are mere skeletons of their former selves as the digital age has changed the dynamics.

"The Internet has made it so that a lot of bands are kind of making it on their own through their use of the Internet, without a traditional record company," Hawkes said.

The new album is being released through Hear Music, a joint venture between Concord Music Group and Starbucks. The java chain is also marketing music by Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and K.D. Lang.

"It's kind of hard for me to know exactly where The Cars are going fit into that whole strange new world," Hawkes added with a chuckle.

"Hopefully there are a lot of people who will be curious to hear what The Cars are up to these days."

CNNRadio's Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report.

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