Album #28: “Panorama” — The Cars (1980)
“With nothing to do/except think about you” — Ric Ocasek
“Panorama” is always known as The Cars’ ‘dark album.’ After two records full of jangly pop tunes about wanting and longing, “Panorama” spends most of its time venting in frustration over never getting. Often set in minor keys, the songs vacillate between whining and begging, self-pity and adolescent sadomasochism. In other words, until Morrissey came along, it was the perfect album for a mopey teenager.
“Panorma” came out the week I turned 16.
It was only later, when I was much older, that I realized how perfectly this record encapsulated the next two years of high school for me. Between the desperation and depression, it could have been a road map for the bleak terrain I was about to pass through, if only I had listened to the lyrics more carefully. (This goes doubly so for the ironic album cover: it waves the checkered flag, while every song leaves the protagonist stranded as yet another potential lover takes flight in the opposite direction.)
Of course, for all the sympathizing Ocasek and crew do with loserdom, they aren’t above turning on their own fans and reminding them how harsh and unforgiving the world is if you forget your place. As Benjamin Orr cuttingly drives home in “Down Boys”: You were tryin’ to be, hysterical/ And I still ain’t laughin.’ There’s 11th grade, right there.
At no point during the album does anyone get lucky. Even with “Up and Down,” the hard-pounding punch that ends “Panorama,” Ric Ocasek is reduced to begging:
Do you have to be so hard to get
Especially with those emerald eyes
You might have been a neon lover
But you didn’t have to advertise
Come on, come on, well, come on
It’s okay Ric, I know just how you feel.