Album Review: Rhino Records' Expanded Edition of The Cars' "Panorama"

Expanded edition released in July, 2017

This is the third installment in a series of album/CD reviews by SRO contributing writer, Donna Neale, revolving around the re-issuing of The Cars’ classic back-catalog on Rhino Records.


Review by Donna Neale * Album photos by Joe Milliken

With two incredible albums under their belt, the 80s new wave rock band, The Cars, put out their third album in three years, and once again shook up the music world with their cutting-edge originality. Panorama continued the streak of platinum albums for The Cars, and broke the top five on Billboard’s album chart. Released on August 15, 1980, with Roy Thomas Baker back in the producer’s chair, Panorama caused quite a stir.

Picture an uppercase ‘Y’ as the path of creativity. If The Cars began at the base with their debut album, and moved upward with Candy-O, Panorama represents a veering off to the left on their musical journey. Almost across the board, critics declared this third album to be dark, moody, and cold. On October 30, 1980, Rolling Stone called it “rigid, electronic rock & roll that favors machine-like exactness over heartfelt expression, and avant-garde minimalism over pop-based tunefulness,” – and that was a friendly review!

But where those on high grumbled about the starkness of the music, I am crazy for it. Panorama is far and away my favorite Cars album. What may be considered rigid and distant, I hear as aggressive and full of swagger. Songs like, “Don’t Tell Me No,” “Getting Through,” and “Down Boys” present an in-your-face attitude that we can all relate to, while “Touch and Go” and “Mistfit Kid” expose a little of the human underbelly in Ric Ocasek’s writing, while still maintaining that above-it-all, bemused exterior.

Because it is my favorite album, I have to work harder than ever to not go on and on about every original track, and will instead focus on examining the “expanded” features of this new offering from Rhino Records.

As with the Candy-O expanded edition, opening the gatefold of the vinyl Panorama reissue provides a wonderful visual thrill. There is a collage of rare photos of the band, looking as cool and collected as ever. Inside the sleeves, the delights continue with the reproduced lyrics sheet, and another set of pictures backed by liner notes written by keyboard player Greg Hawkes and writer David Wild. There are two records: sides one and two feature the remastered Panorama album in its entirety, side three contains bonus tracks, and a custom laser etching graces the fourth side; this time with drummer David Robinson’s classy checkered flag.

Now here’s where things get a little sticky for me. Obviously the big draw of a re-release like this is the bonus material. Panorama has only four extra tracks. One of those is the punky and irresistible “Don’t Go To Pieces,” which was released back in the early 80s on vinyl as the B sides to both “Don’t Tell Me No” and “Give Me Some Slack,” and again on Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology in 1995. Also included is a song called “Be My Baby,” which seems to me to be an almost identical version of the song, “Maybe Baby” from The Cars’ fourth album, Shake It Up. Not a fave of mine, but still a solid, throbbing rocker.

Then we get to the new stuff… the golden ticket. This is the kind of thing longtime Cars fans can’t ever get enough of: previously unreleased tracks. Rhino included two of them; both incomplete demos, and both sung by bassist Benjamin Orr.

First we have “Shooting For You,” a great meshing of rocking guitars and quirky synthesizer riffs, with a minimal infusion of lyrics. What Benjamin does sing, he sings with that unshakable confidence and wry delivery characteristic of many of the songs where he takes the lead vocal. The other treasure is “The Edge.” From my first listen I was electrified by Benjamin’s palpable energy, and completely taken in by Ric Ocasek’s lyrics, which alternate between taunting and nonsensical. The marriage of the two is intoxicating. Both “Shooting For You” and “The Edge” have become an exciting part of my regular playlist.

Now, I have to admit I was a little disappointed that Rhino included so few bonus tracks on this reissue. It would have been so great to hear some of the original Panorama songs in demo form or as previously unreleased live recordings. Perhaps no alternate versions exist? The two songs they did give us are terrific, but one of those (“Shooting For You”) was made available in its entirety via the internet almost two months before the expanded editions were on the market, so basically when I was forking over my money at the counter, I was effectively shelling out for only one new song and a bunch of terrific photos. Worth it? For me, yes! There is no question. I am absolutely crazy about all things ‘The Cars.’ You’ll have to decide for yourself, though, if the new elements are enough to compel you to replace what you might already have in your collection.

These new expanded editions from Rhino Records are available digitally and on CD, as well as the vinyl product reviewed here. And here’s an exciting side note: Greg Hawkes recently commented on Facebook that there might be forthcoming reissues of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City (the next two albums in The Cars’ catalog) before the end of 2017. Of course, I will eagerly open my wallet again! It’s getting awfully close to December 31st with no official announcement, but I am optimistic that 2018 will bring us those reissues if I don’t find them hiding under my Christmas tree. Fingers crossed!