True to their plain-vanilla moniker, The Clarks produce pleasant, nondescript no-frills rock with a pop sheen. In the musical world, they’re the smiling neighbors down the street whose names you can never quite recall. Granted, they’ve packed 10,000-seat amphitheaters in their hometown of Pittsburgh, but the band’s regional popularity has yet to translate to broader success. A depressing trend that’s not likely to change with Fast Moving Cars, the most recent installment in a series of garage-rock efforts with all the grease stains removed.
On the plus side, most of these 12 songs feature solid hooks, and both the infectious first single “Hell on Wheels” and the soaring guitar anthem “Shimmy Low” demonstrate the band’s strong melodic abilities. They’re undoubtedly fine pop craftsmen but somebody should take these guys aside and explain that garage rock and studio trickery don’t mix well, and if they’re going for the rowdy bar-band vibe, then sounding like consummate Pro Tools aficionados may not be the smartest approach. Only near the end of the album, on “You Know Everything,” do they finally let it rip.
The Clarks ultimately fall into that tier of polite ’90s power popsters like Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Rembrandts whose melodic gifts foundered beneath the weight of such oppressive studio slickness and the unavoidable fact that they didn’t have all that much to say. Fast Moving Cars is bright and shiny, there’s just not much going on beneath the hood.