The Cars: Panorama (Rhino)

The Cars

On first impression, Panorama certainly doesn’t look like an album by Boston New Wave/Power Pop band The Cars. Sure, there’s a checkered-flag, but there’s no sexy woman on the cover. As superficial as that may seem, the albums that didn’t feature a gorgeous woman on the front cover performed significantly worse than those that did. Were they escaping an image? Trying to focus the listener’s attention on their music, offering it with frills-free, bland packaging? Whatever the case may be, the strikingly off-brand artwork certainly set the tone that what was inside might just be a bit different from what one might expect from a band that had delivered the innovative and influential album The Cars just two years prior.

And it was.

There’s something to be said about a band willing to try something new on their third album, especially when albums number one and two were critically acclaimed and commercial smashes. Working with producer Roy Thomas Baker, the band decided that the time was right for them to “shake it up,” as it were, and make a record influenced by the new sounds filling the airwaves. Thus, Panorama is the sound of a band realizing that the musical landscape was changing—thanks, in no small part, to their previous releases—and following suit.

But if there’s a key to this sonic shift, it comes down to one word: Devo.

Panorama is, ultimately, The Cars trying to be more like Devo; clever lyrics bathed in upbeat, futuristic keyboard melodies and New Wave dance rhythms. “Gimme Some Slack” blends the bands classic rock edge with a percussive beat that instantly reminds of Freedom Of Choice as does “Shooting For You” and “Up And Down.” When they temper these new techniques with their already well-defined sound, the results are much more satisfying. “Misfit Kid” and “Down Boys” hint at the direction they’d soon take with Shake It Up.

Yet the album has a few too many dark, heavy-handed, and slightly dreary numbers; the title track is nearly six minutes long and opens the album on a dour note; “You Wear Those Eyes” and “Running To You” are equally heavy and dull. Even “Touch And Go” feels like an odd choice for a single; it’s not a bad song, but it does feel a bit odd compared to the bands more upbeat singles fare. (That this song would fare better than the catchier “Gimme Some Slack” and more Cars-sounding “Don’t Tell Me No” is even more puzzling.) The two unreleased songs, “Be My Baby” and “The Edge,” were clearly superior to the previously mentioned album cuts, as is B-side “Don’t Go To Pieces.” Why these numbers were given short shrift is anyone’s guess; their addition to the album only makes the Panorama puzzle even more confusing.

Panorama was the not-unexpected slip from a band clearly on its way to monumental status, a moment of calculated risk that didn’t work out. They’d soon return to the tried-and-true Cars formula, as follow-ups Shake It Up and Heartbeat City would cement the legacy of their seminal debut and Candy-O. But don’t feel too sorry for Panorama; it still sold well, even if the band let it quietly go out of print—until this reissue, compact disc copies of the album traded at a rather hefty price. Being an artist means experimenting and trying new things, even though Panorama shows that just because one takes a chance doesn’t mean that the world will accept it.

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