Super-group or side-project? Probably somewhere in-between, honestly, when all is said and done given one participant’s inability to focus on anything for very long. Dreamcar is a loving ode to mid-80s synthpop in all of its glory, and something of a reductive compression of the entire genres major players. It’s a razor thin line between enjoyable romp of derivative 80s silliness and a group of rockers engaging in pastel dad chic while sweating to the oldies.
Substituting Gwen Stefani for Davey Havok brings out certain weaknesses in the material. Not for lack of Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal, and Adrian Young banging away with verve and energy, but for Havok’s gothic, edgy lyrics that dip into tortured teenage poetry and “try hard” obliqueness way too often. For all of the excessive fun and kitsch of “Kill for Candy” or storminess of “Show Me Mercy,” there’s way too many regressive moments of Havok’s outsized personality deflating the songs.
Case in point: “Don’t Let Me Love,” a tortured song featuring eyerolling lyrics like “If you hold the razor/I will guide your hand/I don’t want to fall in love again/Please/Don’t let me love.” That wouldn’t pass muster in my high school creative writing class, trust me, I tried it, and it’s even worse coming from a man in his early 40s. At least it was expected of a 16 year old. At least on “Don’t Let Me Love” his vocals are in fine form, as they are throughout the rest of the album. There’s no faulting his line delivery or zany stylistic choices, but those lyrics….
Much better, honestly the crown jewel of the pack, is the groovy camp of “All of the Dead Girls” where Havok’s baroque lyrics settle into a playfulness that the rest of the album needed more of. “All of the Dead Girls” is the aural equivalent of the Cure’s Robert Smith subbing in for Adam Ant around the Kings of the Wild Frontier album. It’s a glimpse of Dreamcar operating at its sleekest, smartest, and wildest.
While Dreamcar’s debut may be better than No Doubt’s last studio album, 2012’s overproduced and half-thought Push and Shove, it’s still not a patch on any of that band’s strongest albums. It’s unclear whether more will come from this as the band’s aborted tour, promotional efforts, and pulled second single all hint at some kind of strife either internally or with the record label. If all we get is this flimsy, fun bit of synthpop pastiche, then it was an enjoyable lark while it lasted.
DOWNLOAD: “All of the Dead Girls”