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”). This is dark matter for a band as energetic as Cake, but they make it work, like a theatrical retelling of Brave New World, as scored by G. Love & Special Sauce.
It has been seven years since the last new Cake single I heard, “No Phone”, made me think the band was grasping at straws for lyrical material. It’s a long walk from “Satan Is My Motor”, best believe, but now Showroom Of Compassion brings the singles “Sick Of You” (for style reference, see: “Love You Madly”) and “Federal Funding” (see: “Long Line Of Cars”). I was skeptical, as while Cake’s signature style was present, plus a notable shift to reverb during production, lyrics were again shoehorned into Pressure Chief territory.
I let that go, and then, received the album. One word: bleak.
This is not a band evolving so drastically over each album, to a point that the early die-hards will flag the premiere coming of Cake as its only truly great accomplishment, no; as an avid listener, I’m prone to enjoy Comfort Eagle a great deal more than Motorcade, though that original muffling in John McCrea’s vocals does bring me back to the days of a burgeoning Beck. In the past seven years, I’m wagering that members of Cake were either going through a collective mid-life crisis, or they wrote this album as more of a direct reflection of headline news omens, than a riffing analysis of them.
Case and point: “Teenage Pregnancy” vs “Arco Arena”. I have no idea what the meaning was behind “Arco Arena”, but in comparing instrumental pieces, one gets the feeling that Cake made a jump from mildly upbeat accents to the death march theme for unwed adolescent mothers; “Teenage Pregnancy” is, in mood, what the title could imply, with really jaunty and morose undertones that feel like something Ennio Morricone would craft for a PSA. This is a glaringly problematic theme throughout Showroom, save for “Sick Of You”, a conveniently upbeat first choice on single releases.
“Got To Move” and “What’s Now Is Now” are sappy pop tunes that try to mimic Devo’s messages, and fail dismally; “Easy To Crash” shares its indifferent nature with second single, “Federal Funding”, but where the former gets gussied up in a Hot Chip vibe and wastes it, the latter tries to emulate “Comfort Eagle”, only the lyrics are sparser, and one feels phenomenally worse after listening. You no longer have motivation to change the scope of the world, because implicitly, “Corporations and government spending fucked you.”
Do not think me a Class-A dickhead for this, because Showroom has its redeeming qualities. Production value has upped the ante sonically, and while there are those who might scoff at such a thing because lo-fi makes you cooler, Showroom Of Compassion does not shoot you in the eardrum with loudness battling, or undue sound effects and segues. In all honesty, Showroom could make a case that it was meant to be glorious misery incarnate, allowing you to sap every ounce from its packaging, but unfortunately, that is not what Cake is for.
We have Zach De La Rocha for starting the class riots, we have Pearl Jam for introspection and deep thought, let Cake be our damned dessert again. Please? Until then, congratulations, McCrea and company — you’ve been relieved of your duty as the sarcastic figurehead of alternative music. If everything goes according to plan, you can consider touring with PUSA, maybe yank The Offspring to be your latest comedy relief a la “Shit Is Fucked Up”. Nostalgia, anyone?