It's been a good long time -- eight years, to be precise -- since Ric Ocasek was on the performer's side of the glass in a recording studio. That "hiatus," spent producing acts as varied as Weezer, Le Tigre, and Guided by Voices, didn't cause any rust to develop on the song-crafting skills of the former Cars frontman. At times -- most noticeably on the insistently bouncy "Bottom Dollar" -- Nexterday sounds like a great lost Cars album, but Ocasek isn't simply retracing his steps. "Don't Lose Me," for instance, is propelled by a spiky guitar riff that's full-force garage-rock (and deadpan lyrics that make pleas like "Don't get me wrong when I suck"). He even takes a brief side trip to the Caribbean on "In a Little Bit," which lopes along on a ska-tinged bass line and an affably shuffling drum pattern. More often, though, Ocasek, abetted here and there by former bandmate Greg Hawkes and erstwhile Bad Brains bassist Daryl Jennifer, simply lets his futuro-pop flag fly. That works out just fine, whether he's waxing wonderfully weird, as on the herky-jerky opener, "Crackpot," or following his muse into monochromatic landscapes, as on the contemplative "Silver." There's been a void in rock's gallery of eccentrics since Ocasek decided to take a break from the spotlight -- a gap that's filled quite nicely by Nexterday.