Illustration from Little Folk's Every Day Book by Amanda Bartlett Harris, 1881
I've been acquiring these 5-CD sets from the Original Album Series lately, and I have to say that the Cars is a band built exactly for this kind of set. From '78 to '84, they released five albums, after which they rolled out a tidy greatest-hits collection and took time off to pursue other projects. An argument could be made that Greatest Hits is the only Cars album you need (I had it for years and didn't feel the need to explore further), but I'm really enjoying hearing each of the album's all the way through. I really never saw before that the Cars' initial run of albums is seen as an inverted bell curve, with the large majority of their hits being found on their self-titled debut and their fifth album Heartbreak City. Their "difficult" third album, Panorama, is typically referred to as the nadir of this run of albums, but I find that it's the one I listen to the most lately.
Panorama was certainly different. The only Cars album not to feature a sexy lady on the cover, it was also the only one that didn't have a decent hit single - "Touch and Go" barely got into the Top 40. Robert Christgau's reviews of the Cars' albums famously called out their superficiality, but you can hear Panorama trying to do something a little deeper.
The album features relentless Motorik-style rhythms and claustrophobic arrangements that lend the set of songs a sense of jittery paranoia that you don't get from Candy-O or Shake It Up. The sinister edge to the songs makes for a nice contrast for the Cars' impressive harmonies and Ocasek's sneaky pop hooks. The album's opening title track is not exactly inviting as it shows off the album's darker side, but there are plenty of songs on Panorama that shine when you give them a chance. "Touch and Go" has always been my favorite Cars single, and it fits into the album's flow really well - the hard-edged songs on this album are also as successfully menacing as the Cars ever got. The album's closing track, "Up and Down", is probably their best "rock" moment and is my new favorite Cars song - Elliot Easton's guitar leads on this are snarling and creepy until the seamlessly shift into a sunnier jangle for the chorus.
"Up and Down" by the Cars