Cake: Showroom of Compassion

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Posted March 14, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0
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Sober rock and a meidocre, multi-layered presentation offers a world of concern to Cake’s latest dish

It’s one thing to note the unique quality of a band’s first major release, but it’s quite another when the first five studio albums sound pretty much the same. After years of recreating their instantly recognizable sound, California alt-rock band Cake and frontman/songwriter John McCrea decided to finally succumb to their inevitable sonic evolution – even if they didn’t really have it in them. While many of the familiar elements that once so clearly defined Cake’s quirky, raw sound are still present in their sixth studio release, Showroom of Compassion; the attitude of the music and the quality of the typically clever/sarcastic lyrics offered have all been toned down – so much so that this album could’ve been promoted as a follow-up to their last release (B-Sides and Rarities) without anyone the wiser.

While Showroom starts off on a mellow note with the trudging bluesy “Federal Funding,” the track might represent the album’s lyrical high point, as McCrea humorously pokes at the government’s bureaucratic flaws: “You’ll receive the federal funding, you can pass the simple test.” From here, the tempo picks up slightly with the vocal-sample-laden “Long Time” before introducing us to one of the odder compositional swerves on the album: a semi-classical element awkwardly working itself into only a few tracks, beginning with the lackluster “Got To Move.” For starters, the decision to place this slower song after two others was a misstep, but the real clincher is the vocal melody’s uninspired resemblance to beginner’s Mozart pieces that kids learn early in their piano studies. Follow this up with a forgettable cover of an obscure Frank Sinatra ballad, and one’s left wondering if a true Cake song will ever emerge from this borefest.

Sure enough, the next track, “Mustache Man (Wasted),” is typical of the material fans have grown to love since Cake’s 1994 debut, complete with up-tempo surf-rock-guitar-meets-disco-horn lines and even a lyric lifted from their breakout hit “Going the Distance”: “He is racing, he is pacing.” Following this is the rare Cake instrumental, “Teenage Pregnancy,” representing both the album’s most classically-minded track and most-successful stylistic departure. Beginning with one of the only occasions the band has used a piano on record (another being Fashion Nugget’s “Daria”), the track evolves into a lilting, somber rock number featuring Cake’s full instrumentation in what probably amounts to the musical high point of the entire album.

Unfortunately, most of Showroom lingers in mediocrity. Despite acceptable efforts with the breakdown in “Sick of You,” the hit-or-miss country number “Bound Away” and the soberingly poignant “The Winter,” the rest of the album continues to misfire, adding up to Cake’s lowest point in their roughly 20-year career. In the end, perhaps the band should have just stuck with what they do best – after all, although their first five studio releases did sound quite similar, they also managed to sound similarly-inspired, showing that – for Cake at least – if it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixin’.

RYAN BURRUSS

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 11 January 2011
  • Label: Upbeat Records
  • Producers: Cake
  • Spin This: “Federal Funding,” “Teenage Pregnancy”


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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