After the success of their first three albums, the Cars had enough money banked that they were able to build their own recording studio in Boston, and that's where they recorded their fourth album, 1981's Shake It Up. The new setup allowed the Cars more time to tinker with their sound, but also meant that much of the album was recorded in pieces by each member of the band, instead of them being in the same room. While it's not something that seems like an issue on the album's big hits, the pensive "Since You're Gone" and the timelessly silly title track, other songs on the record mostly sound a little lifeless and mechanical, filled with tinny drum machines, odd sound effects, and not much inspiration. "Cruiser" comes across as a pale version of a rocker from either of the first two albums, "This Could Be Love" is a monochromatic ballad, and "Think It Over" is a lesser version of "Shake It Up." The admittedly pretty ballad "I'm Not the One" barely sounds like the Cars; the electronic handclaps, massed backing vocals, and tinkling modern synths make it sound like adult contemporary daytime radio fodder, which is better than the sound they got on "A Dream Away," which sounds like a demo (half)-cooked up on super-cheap gear. Only "Maybe Baby," with its massive drum overdubs and spiraling guitar work, shows the band using the studio to its fullest, matching a strong song with inventive production. Apart from that song, and the two hits that kicked off the album like vintage Cars, the album is the sound of a band spinning its wheels. Coming after the middling success of Panorama, it's not surprising that they swung back toward something more familiar; it's just too bad they didn't have the songs or production savvy to make it work.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra