The Cars: Candy-O (Expanded Edition), Panorama (Expanded Edition)

The Cars
Candy-O (Expanded Edition)
Panorama (Expanded Edition)
(Rhino/Elektra)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“Don’t Cha Stop” was a track on the Cars’ debut, and it’s clear they took their own advice. The Boston based quintet not only churned out an album a year from 1978-1981 while keeping a rigorous road schedule, but the music never seemed rushed, repetitive or unfocused. That kind of productivity is almost unheard of now as most acts take years to craft follow-up music. More impressively, the group’s first four releases were dotted with both charting singles and deeper, occasionally darker and far more experimental leaning tracks, showing a band that refused to rest on their popularity or crank out more of the same to cash in.

The Cars’ multi-platinum selling debut has already been revisited and expanded as a deluxe re-issue and their entire catalog got the remastered box set treatment in 2016. So, it’s time for lengthened versions of 1979’s Candy-O and ‘80’s Panorama, the former now with seven B-sides and remixes and the latter tacking on four (including three previously unreleased finished songs from the sessions).

Unlike many bands that become increasingly more commercial as they age, the Cars took an opposite approach. While Candy-O had a few charting singles such as the opening “Let’s Go,” it, and especially Panorama that appeared a year later, included less pop and more of an artsy approach to a power pop new wave sound that was slowly but surely evolving away from radio play. That trend reversed after Panorama yielded no notable hits (although “Touch & Go” scraped the Top 40), but it makes that album remain one of the freshest and most durable in the original Cars’ six-album run. Credit goes to producer Roy Thomas Baker, on board for the band’s first four sets, for deftly combining elements that included hard rock, electronic and catchy melodies, with a tough commercial sheen. That concept was pushed to its limits on the more ominous synth based tunes that dominated Panorama, but was firmly in place for the more accessible Candy-O. There is some filler on both but the hit to miss ratio is high enough to consider these two as arguably the Cars at their most dynamic.

The supplementary material on Candy-O and Panorama make these editions aimed at hardcore Cars fans since only they would care about the different mixes, (previously available) B-sides and a few songs that initially weren’t deemed good enough to be included on the albums. However, the three previously unreleased selections on Panorama are real finds, arguably as solid as anything on the disc, making this edition essential to the Cars legacy. Since the remastered editions have already been released with upgraded audio, it’s only those cuts and some interesting liner notes that set these apart from the already available editions.

Most impressive though is, despite some clichéd ’80s production ticks, how powerful, distinctive and even contemporary they remain nearly four decades removed from their inception.