Click to listen to Cake's Showroom Of Compassion Cake graduated from the same Nineties class of alt-rock oddballs that produced Beck and Weezer. But where their contemporaries evolved or died, they've stayed true to the same droll sound (and not unsuccessfully; Cake songs are weirdly ubiquitous in movie and TV comedies). Their sixth disc has the usual whirring keyboards and winking mariachi horns, all subject to John McCrea's satiric sing-talking.
It has been more than six years since the sardonic alt-rockers’ last studio effort, but their sixth LP, Showroom of Compassion, makes it sound like hardly any time has passed at all. Lead singer John McCrea unspools dry observations in his usual deadpan tone over the synth squiggles, campy brass fanfares, snappy guitar parts, and crisp backbeats that have always been his band?s signatures. The resulting confection tastes remarkably fresh, considering how few concessions it makes to contemporary trends.
After waiting seven years for the band’s sixth studio album, many Cake fans were ambivalent when frontman John McCrea announced that Showroom of Compassion would have a “very different” sound. But while it might be a little more mellow, it’s still very much a Cake album—crazy noises, random shouting, chortling trumpets and all. Recorded under the solar panels of Upbeat Studio, Showroom marks a departure in many ways for the band—from Columbia Records, from the Sacramento, Calif., power grid, and from the style of the past.
Maybe it was the right time for Cake to take a break. Their last album of new material, 2004’s Pressure Chief was a solid effort that nonetheless found the band sounding a little tired. Dropping out of sight just as “indie-rock” was truly replacing “alternative” in the modern rock lexicon seems, in retrospect, like perfect timing. In the interim, we’ve seen the rise of the “Alternative Gold” format on both satellite and now terrestrial radio, which mines Gen X-er’s nostalgia for the ‘90s.
Willful eccentricity is something that demands a certain degree of commitment, and many bands that start out strikingly weird buckle under the pressure to maintain their curious image over the course of a long career. So Cake are to be commended for sticking to their oddball guns for close to 20 years; their sixth album (and first in six years), 2011's Showroom Of Compassion, still finds John McCrea writing like he's tossing off random thoughts as he struggles not to be overwhelmed by the voices in his head, and singing as if he's waiting for that grilled cheese sandwich he ordered to finally show up. And his backing musicians -- Vincent DiFiore on trumpet and keyboards, Xan McCurdy on guitar, Gabriel Nelson on bass and guitar, and a tag team of four drummers -- still cut a geeky but potent groove, delivering a funky undertow that's engaging but just off-kilter enough to match McCrea's vision.
Still creating understated, charming indie-rock Still creating understated, charming indie-rock as they reach their 20th anniversary, this is Californian veterans Cake’s first studio album in more than six years. They’ve not lost their ability to craft subtly alluring, idiosyncratic songs in that time. The languid feel of their trumpet ‘n’ keys-infused, laid-back tunes can make it difficult to fully engage with this album on first listen, but repeat plays unveil some gems amongst its 11 tracks.
The television series Chuck uses “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” as its theme song; “Rock N Roll Lifestyle”, a single from the debut album, Motorcade Of Generosity, still gets moderate airplay; the ominous-yet-peppy title track to Comfort Eagle is one of my personal favorite songs of all time. Cake is an interesting mixture of big band music and disillusionment, monotonous talk-singing and snappy rhythms; the very name of this act, the very sound, and the names of its records, are textbook juxtaposition. Just think about the subject matter of Cake’s biggest hits: a stock car racer, eternally and obsessively driving in loops, long after the competition’s ended, driving his lover insane (“The Distance”); father abandonment issues (“Never There”); a maddening writer’s block that even our CoS staff cannot fathom (“Shadow Stabbing”).
Midway through mock piano ballad “The Winter,” Cake frontman John McCrea croons, “Jingle bells are smothered in this gloom.” Leave it to Cake, alt-rock’s pissed-off elder statesmen, to put a disheartening spin on St. Nick. (“Hey, kids — those candy canes’ll rot your teeth!”) It’s been seven years since their last album, 2004’s Pressure Chief, but not much has changed in Camp Cake.