What Rhymes With Cars and Girls: the theatre show giving new life to a classic album

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What Rhymes With Cars and Girls doesn't make the album better. But, importantly, it doesn't make it worse.

Tim Rogers’ 1999 solo debut What Rhymes With Cars and Girls is close to a perfect album. There’s no chaff, every song’s a winner.

In the space of its 38 minutes, you get a picture of Rogers in his late 20s – both cocky and self-deprecating, romantic and indifferent – as he sings about love, mateship and playing rock’n’roll, all with a loose, laidback, kick-arse alt-country backing.

It’s strange to see Tim Rogers not as a frontman, not as the centre of attention, but as a support player.

It’s not high art, but it’s honest and packed full of classic wry and heartbreaking Tim Rogers lines that kick you right in the guts.

Playwright Aidan Fennessy has clearly spent a lot of time with this record, as he’s managed to bolt a narrative on to this collection of songs when there wasn’t really any semblance of one before.

That narrative doesn’t deserve any plaudits for originality. It’s all ‘boy meets girl, they fall in love, yada yada yada, we all clap and go home’. But, as mentioned before, the source material is not exactly high art.

However, the way the story snakes in and around the songs on the album is fascinating. Fennessy draws meanings from the songs that are completely removed from what we’ve armed them with over the past 18 years and, as such, breathes a different life into songs we know so well.  

Sometimes it’s a little clunky. Fans of the album will spend perhaps more time than is respectful considering how the playwright will shoehorn songs like ‘You Just Don’t Do It For Me Friend’ and ‘Hey, We’re the Support Band’ into the story. On occasion, it feels like he’s drawing slightly too long a bow, but in the knockabout context of both the album and this production, that vaguely clumsy placement is kinda charming.

So too is the spirited back and forth between the production’s only two actors, Johnny Carr and Sophie Ross, as well as their sly, faux-offhand interactions with Rogers, who serves as musical director and guitarist.

Which brings us to perhaps the most perplexing thing about the show.

While Tim Rogers’ presence on stage adds considerable credibility (he did write these songs after all) and his work as guitarist, backing vocalist and bit-part actor is truly flawless, one can’t help but wonder why he is here. He doesn’t sing any of the songs, his role could be filled by any number of cheaper, lower profile performers, yet there he is.

It’s strange to see him not as a frontman, not as the centre of attention, but as a support player. Kudos to Rogers for the commitment, not many other artists would do the same.

The way the story snakes in and around the songs on the album is fascinating

Carr and Ross are charming and engaging throughout, injecting fun and pathos into their performances and rarely coming across too flippant or mawkish.

Ross’ voice is staggeringly good, while Carr’s take on the songs is a little rougher around the edges, but it suits his character and suits the songs.

The musicianship from Rogers, Xani Kola and Ben Franz is brilliant. The humble trio proves more versatile than expected as they easily tackle the – admittedly not too diverse – terrain of the album.

Having listened to What Rhymes With Cars and Girls approximately 19,000 times in the past 18 years, I can’t truthfully say whether an intimate knowledge of the album is actually necessary to enjoying the show. But I can say it’s of great benefit.

The script is littered with nods to the album’s lyrics – the creases around the mothers’ mouth, the father’s prostate cancer, the wine appreciation course and even the age of the characters – but they’re probably more knowing winks than vital references.

The What Rhymes With Cars and Girls stage show does not make Tim Rogers’ album any better. But, vitally, it doesn’t make it worse. It’s a fun new way to look at a cherished record and will hopefully ensure it finds a new audience for many years down the track. 

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