Cake – [Album]

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Note:  It is my goal to make it all the way through this review without using the cliché “have your cake and eat it too,” but I promise nothing.

You know what the best thing is about a band’s greatest hits album?  It’s all their old classics, conveniently bundled together.  The downside to greatest hits albums is that they're just sets of old classics, conveniently bundled together and that always feels like a bit of an effrontery; bands that stick around long enough to make a greatest hits album usually get that far by way of originality, creativity and uniqueness – a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will.  Fans follow different bands with such fervor because of those things; something about their uniqueness resonates with them. It’s why there’s an entire discography somewhere that fans (maybe you) have pored over more than once; but then comes that magical time when a band has enough backlogged hits that they cherry-pick their favorites and call it a new album.  It’s not really new though, it’s not a fresh breath of creative words; it’s a rehashing of their old creative words.  

Smell the irony.

That isn't to say all greatest hits albums are bad. Most are a mish-mash of hits that fans want placed conveniently on one album. The conundrum in which audiophiles find themselves (and myself a couple times, I openly admit) is that, if they’re going to spend fifteen bucks on an album, it sure would be nice to have something fresh.

Apparently Cake feels the same way.

After five studio albums and a seven-year hiatus, Cake has handed out a new album, Showroom of Compassion. With an extensive list of hits, Cake could have easily strung them together for a greatest hits album and called it a day, but Showroom of Compassion listens like a new riff on the greatest hits idea: it’s all-new material that works from the base of their greatest sounds.  

Miss your circa 1990s Cake? Skip over to “Sick of You,” the album’s single that’s currently traipsing up the charts, and get taken down by a wave of nostalgia but, before jumping forward, the opening salvo titled “Federal Funding” is a nice slice of classic Cake. Taking off with that sweet bass line, drums and synth quickly fall in line behind it before pairing off with singer John McCrea’s sing-talking vocals in fine form.  And this track doesn’t mince words. With lyrics like, “You’ll receive the federal funding/ You can add another wing/ Take your colleagues out to dinner/ Pay your brother to come and sing,” listeners get a taste of Cake as political commentators. And if “Moustache Man (Wasted)” doesn’t take you back to the days of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” in the best possible way, nothing will.

Well, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” would probably do it, but that’s not the point.

Remember that period of time when Cake flirted with the country/western line?  Here it is in shiny new packaging, titled “Bound Away.” A lonely acoustic guitar is quickly rejoined by a softly dropping bass and McCrea’s voice, which here breaks it’s monotony (well, as much as a country song about being lonely will allow) and is backed by the band before crunchy electric guitars etch some depth into the song. The horn section reappears, but more in a mariachi/ “Ring of Fire” sense – and yes, that is a steel guitar you hear, doling out the lonesome moments.    

But the album isn’t without its' moments of exploration. “Teenage Pregnancy” opens with a piano solo – an instrument that was avoided by McCrea up to this point because it sounded too classy. And classy it sounds here, with its' soulful rejoinder as it’s eventually compounded by the signature brass and bass before drowning under electric riffs and synthesizers as it slides into a dark, haphazard tune. Then there’s “The Winter,” which sounds a bit like Cake doing a Killers a la Hot Fuss impersonation.  

In eleven tracks, Cake explores the sound they’re known for and recharges it with new lyrics, new composition, and the same old ironic class. For those just being introduced to the band, it’s a great jumping on point. For those who are already long familiar, it’s a wonderful refresher with splashes of something new. Either way, music lovers can have their sugary, bread-like desserts and enjoy them as well.

Nope, couldn’t make it through.



Showroom Of Compassion
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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