THE ALBUM -- The Cars, "Panorama," Elektra (5e-514); THE SHOW -- At Merriweather Post Pavilion, Monday at 7:30
The latest disappointment to roll off the rock assembly line is The Cars' "Panorama." From the irritation title track -- a busy electronic mesh that's a bore -- to the redundant "Up And Down," the album fails to measure up to the group's two earlier efforts.
The Boston band's success has been based on catchy hooklines, composed and given distinctive styling by lead vocalist Ric Osasek. "Let the Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl," "Let's Go" and "Candy-O" were all slick tunes, perfect for heavy radio rotation. But The Cars won't get as much mileage out of "Panaroma." Clashing metal and thrashing bass do come together with stark vocals on a couple of tracks to create memorable moments. But despite danceable guitar riffs reminiscent of the Stones and lonely-hearts lyrics full of nervous complainants, the album offers few standouts.
One cut that does work, "Touch and Go," has a distinct melody and shifting rhythms with twanging, almost countrified guitars alternating with the prominent electric organ chords. Another, "Don't Tell Me No," has an appealing numbing bass, thudding drums and deep, tight harmony on the chorus. The tone is mean yet vulnerable: "It's my dream, have a laugh/It's my life, have a half."
But most of the tracks display a too-familiar pattern: repetitive keyboard background, excessive electronic showing off (video-game noises and futuristic guitar quirks), empty, supposedly arty lyrics and a beat that's hyperactive. The songs evaporate even as they're played.
The uncertainties of romance and the tribulations of party-goers are recurring themes. Updates on the "I'll cry if I want to" mode appear on at least three cuts: "I don't want to be your party doll" . . . "it's my party you can come" . . . "all these parties get so habitual." The music does too, although Ocasek generally zeros in on American culture in clever verse. His "Misfit Kid" sums up certain national ttitudes and pastimes:
I get rhythm, I get cornflakes
I get fast love, I get wasted
I dream frequently, sometimes they come out funny"
Elsewhere, Ocasek pays tribute to Elvis Presley while trying to reinvent the formula. He observes life "down at the end of lonely street" on the song, "Gimme Some Slack," and from there slips in references to Euripides, Fellini and a host of psychedelic dream images. Ringing keyboard sequences float above the driving bass and frantic drums. It turns out there's no need for the lyrical intellectual games. Rock can be expertly produced (by Roy Thomas Baker), smartly written and modernized, but it's still best played loudly for a crowded dance floor.
Euripides? Gimme some slack!