Sound — 10
Here we are, The Cars - that Boston rock band in the New Wave circle filled with a good mix of understated quirkiness and humor mixed with extra cool factor and so fourth. In that scene, The Cars were "The Fonz" of New Wave bands - and it don't get more Fonzie than this record with it's red/white/black color scheme, sweeter pop flavor, harder driving greasy guitar work, and walls and walls of well placed keyboards to go with the rest of the well placed instrumentation.
To keep it short. The Cars were a new wave band that evolved out of Cap'N'Swing and the Modern Lovers - taking members of both groups and forming what you hear here. They got attention via a demo version of Just What I Needed that called out the record companies to Boston, eventually signing with Electra and releasing their self-titled Debut in 1978.
With Candy-O, what we get is a record that gets a little more "west coast" flare, thicker production, bigger sound, and of course, David Robinson pulled Playboy artist Alberto Vargas, at 83 years old and retired, to draw the classy yet somewhat racy album cover - which was his last art piece ever - what a way to go out of a career! Everyone got a gear upgrade....here's the personnel....
Ric Ocasek - the super-tall, some would say gangly frontman/rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter. Ric Ocasek beefed up his guitar rig for this album, keeping the Ampeg V4 for the clean sounds from the last album, but also using a Marshall. He also seems to use more pedals. Guitars he uses here include his Jazzmaster and SG he used on the first record, as well as a new B.C. Rich Bich 10-string (heard on Since I Held You - if you hear Jangle, it's the B.C. Rich). Ric keeps his Staccato style but it evolved to be less as jerky and smoother by this point - loosing some of the quirk and adding even more drive to an already powerful sound.
Benjamin Orr - The other vocalist, chick magnet, and bassist. Benjamin Orr uses, along with the Vox and Stingray from the first album, a rare Flying V bass, and a Rickenbacker 4000 series, most likely through a different amp rig as the bass sound here is less as bouncy and thicker and "moppier" than the first album.
Greg Hawkes adds a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 to his setup of synths, first heard on the "bow bow bow... bow bow bow bow" into (Touch Sync setting) of the kick off Track "Let's Go" - and he gets behind the helm of an unidentified Farfisa organ for the thrashy garage-rock number "Got a Lot on My Head" (I'm still trying to figure out what Farfisa that was, it's not a Combo organ, and it's woodgrain so it's likely a newer 70's model, and it has black naturals and white flats keys all across). He also plays percussion, probably the Tambourine, on this album as well.
Elliot Easton, lead guitarist and backing vocals, started endorsing the then new Dean Guitars run by 17 year old Luthier extrodinaire Dean Zelinsky at this point, favoring ML models later made popular by Dimebag Darrel of Pantera. He also used a Les Paul (same one from the first record), a Telecaster (same from the first record), B.C. Rich Mockingbird, and a Stratocaster given to him by Bun-E-Carlos of Cheap Trick with an oddly Loverboy/Paul Dean-esque setup of a leo-quan badass bridge in Candy Apple Red (though I surmise that may have been a misprint and it had a tremolo like the Candy Apple Red strat he was seen with on the Candy-O tour which may have been that guitar in actuality). He was using the then new Mesa Boogie amplifiers on this record as well, and uses a germanium fuzz unit on some leads including on "Since I Held You."
David Robinson used a vintage red Slingerland kit on this record, and played percussion. Still, his claim to fame would be getting a model to pose on a brand new Ferrari GT-308 (I think) at a dealership so the then retired 83 year old Alberto Vargas could post her likeness to the albums cover.
Overall, the sound here is bigger, thicker, a wall of sound, whereas the last one was balanced, if you want a bombastic version of The Cars - its' here - wall to wall guitars and synth and hard-hitting drums end to end. A Roller coaster ride of 50's/60's Americana mixed with late '70s punk infused pop-arena-rock power with that same understated class and sense of style that they are known for.
I give this album a 10 for sound - there's just something devastatingly perfect about the sound on this record, weather it's Roy Thomas Baker's wall of vocals, or the massive powerful sound they have here. To me, this is THE album of 1979, even as much as I like other works by other artists, this album does not tire - it's a roller-coaster ride and like I said in my last review of the first record - a story in an album.
Lyrics — 9
Ric Ocasek continues his '50s/'60s kitsch of '70s high-tech cool filled with double entendres, irony, quirky humor, and quite an impressive album-wide and possibly inadvertant story in music and word...here's the story, track by track play by play....
"Let's Go" - possibly the most simple Cars song, it's summertime, she's seventeen, she's a bit cold, but I want her, complete with that signature Cars 8th note thing that taps along like dad's foot to Perry Cuomo on the dead-pedal in the Country Squire on the way to grandmas. Benjamin Orr kicks this album off on the mic.
"Since I Held You" - and now we go to present day, I miss her, I can't sleep, something in the night just don't seem right, and Elliot Easton is serenading us with his brand new fuzz pedal from the house next door with some very soulful leads. Ric Ocasek on vocals.
"It's All I Can Do" - Here we find ourselves staring at pictures from a holiday romance that meant nothing to her but a fling and everything to you. It's all I can do, to keep waiting for you....the chorus says it all. Another soulful fuzz lead from Elliot Easton on this one - I must say, Elliot really shines on this record. This one is the Benjamin Orr Ballad setting the pace for things like Drive later on.
"Double Life" - Ric Ocasek takes us on a trip through traffic in what apparently is a song about cheating. You got your back seat lover, got your front seat wife. It feels like sitting in stop and go traffic, except more exciting and interesting, like an integral part of the plot - maybe our guy got married and now wants to cheat with his Holiday romance. Elliot Easton dons the Strat for this song.
"Shoo Be Doo" - don't let the cheesy sock-hop inspired title fool you - this nod to the synth duo group Suicide is anything but bubblegum! It's more like being trapped on a rollar coaster at the peak and looking down while you're sick, and depressed about your girl mistreating you. Elliot Easton takes a trip down a street Kurt Cobain would frequent later noise-rock wise here, and there's a heavy set sense of panic, urgency - ending with a abrupt scream "DON'T YOU TEL ME WHAT TO DO...WHAT TO DO...WHAT TO DO...WHAT TO DO...WHAT T...." leading into the title track. Ric Ocasek on this one of course.
"Candy-O" - Continuing a brigade of awesome music with cringey sock-hop-ish titles, here we have a thrashy punk piece about once again, that barely obtainable woman he tries everything to get. Elliot Easton wields the Bun.E.Carlos strat, which crazy erratic, wobbling, yet very fitting leads and bends ending the chorus lines, before breaking into a fast double-stop and finger-picked country-style solo deceptively totally rock-sounding because of the amount of gain here. The song stops like a train hitting a brick wall. Ben Orr Vocal.
"Nightspots" - Apparently Ric's slightly snarky commentary on 1970's dance club culture and dating. Elliot Easton siezes the moment with a solo that's a fitting but definitely time-piece of nothing but right-hand hammer-on's, probably nodding to Edward Van-Halen's influence at the time.
"You Can't Hold on Too Long" - Benjamin Orr sings, oddly does the sing-speak thing Ric usually does, on this oddly dreamy yet hard hitting song that seems almost like a walk in the unattainable woman's shoes in the story. "You'd like to come in colors, but you don't know which one, you can't be too choosey, it's just for fun".
"Lust For Kicks" - All aboard Ric Ocasek's party bus through Barbados whilst tailgating the Police here in a way only The Cars can. This funky reggae-esque new wave piece that conveys tones of the war of the sexes and ones materialistic attempts to attain the other's interest and retain that interest. This is actually the lightest song on the album, sort of the Candy-O iteration of "I'm In Touch with Your World" with what sounds like Greg or Ric chatting through a Vocoder in the background while David Robinson fires Linn Drum bananas from the trees onto unsuspecting passenger's heads here and there.
"Got a Lot On My Head" - It's like the last dash attempt to get her attention. This song has a sense of urgency with a fast tempo of 154ish bpm, and Elliot Easton cooks up some interesting, chromatic and crazy bendy lead lines here. I still swear, 20 years later, Ric must have used the Jazzmaster on this one, sounds like one, just too much of that single coil grind - Ric O's rhythm tone is off the hook here. Interesting fact on this song - during the second run of the intro in the middle - Ric lets off a blood curdling scream for some reason - the Monitor Mix version of this album has it high up, but if you listen closely, you can catch it on the record - it really sets the crazy frenetic atmosphere just a tad higher for the rest of the song.
"Dangerous Type" - If Lust for Kicks is "I'm in Touch with Your World", this is Best Friend's Girl's contemporary 1979 variant, kicking off with a very 1960's ish riff with high E and B strings on the off-beat, building up to an ending complete with Elliot Easton playing Western Telecaster twang over the end giving that sense of "Danger" that makes this song really work. Also, the solo on this one smokes.
The level of atmosphere here is so perfect and thick, you'd need a Hattori Hanzo sword to cut it! The only drawback is that The Cars set the bar so high for their earlier guitar-driven incarnation here, that it made it next to impossible to outdo without a stylistic change.
Ric Ocasek, as a vocalist, has sort of an odd Darth Vadar type effect to his voice for the whole record, like someone put some kind of modulation delay on it that makes it very space age sounding - but in the 1970's sense, not the retro kitsch Americana sense. The vocal hiccup sounds he does are still around, and it seems on this Album, Ric is making more of an effort to put more "sing" into his singing.
Benjamin Orr here, does great as usual, but it seems him and Ric did some role reversal here to keep things interesting with the help of "You Can't Hold on Too Long".
Overall, I give it a 10 - even unbiased, this album is just that good! The Cars set the bar high early...and have had to keep it up ever since - which proved much harder after this album. But I'll knock points off for the titles to Candy-O and Shoo Be doo because those cornball titles don't do the justice of the songs that sit behind them - yep, I'm still a little... er... pissed about getting publically humiliated for having this record in middle school and little Randy calling me out on listening to something with sock-hop titles on it... grrrr...
Overall Impression — 9
Candy-O really stands out, while other bands were still in retro kitsch land, The Cars modernized for this record and built a wall of incredible sound and atmosphere as a result, creating a cohesive musical picture that ages well. Here they were Foreigner, a male led Blondie, and the B-52's rolled into one - with that ZZ Top Funny/Cool thing going on still - albeit this time with more cool and less funny.
This album, to me, is even harder for me to push "skip" on than the first - but wit "Shoo Be Doo" being just over a minute in length, and "Lust For Kicks" being fun in the right mood, and those songs sbeing good too, I just let this sucker play end to end.
I feel like everything on this album was done first rate - the music, the lyrics, the sound, the art direction. These guys are so underrated, especially from this period, it's downright criminal. It's not too much, it's not too little, it's just in the right spot - with the right amount yin and yang to keep it balanced and power and heart and technicality to keep that side of things balanced. It's cutting edge and timeless all at once. From the blonde on the cover to the western ending of Dangerous Type - this album was what pretty much set me as a Cars fan for life - even if it's not my favorite.
Again, I have multiple copies including digital, vinyl, and CD, so theft is not a worry. I also have 2 copies of Candy-O on vinyl - the early release that had the band name on a sticker on the cellophane (I recall this was to not molest Alberto Vargas's blonde masterpiece on the cover with a logo), and the later release with the logo on the cover.
That said, I give it a 9 overall - my favorite piece of album art they ever had, a great story from front to end through the music and lyrics and the experience, and a timeless powerful sound that never gets old even 20 years after I first bought this at the Guitar Shoppe with a price tag stating "Candy O-YES!" on it. I would give a 10....but d***it RANDY!