A New Slice of the Old Cake

Courtesy of Cake

With their first new album since “Pressure Chief” in 2004, Cake has been keeping fans waiting for seven years for “Showroom of Compassion,” released on Jan. 11.

Yet, despite a seven-year gap, Cake, for the most part, still sounds much the same as they did almost a decade ago. And they’re OK with that.

Comforting to fans is John McCrea’s half-spoken deadpanned lead vocals, as the band continues to play to their strengths, maintaining what has been called their “idiosyncratic” pop sound. “Showroom of Compassion” shows a commitment to the sound that made the band distinctive, and a wise decision to avoid reinventing an already good thing.

Spending over two years producing the album, the Sacramento group broke with Columbia records after “Pressure Chief” and worked under their own label, “Upbeat Records,” to produce “Showroom of Compassion.”

Some very subtle stylistic differences distinguish “Showroom of Compassion” from Cake’s earlier work with more ballads and reverb vocals added to the mix, along with slower trumpet parts and more piano. Track 1, “Federal Funding,” is bit of a droopy start to the album, but perhaps necessary to date the work to present day, reminding listeners that Cake knows they’re no longer in the 90s. By track 2 the pace picks up, and continues strong. The sound is fresh to listeners, but still quirky, still a little dark, and still lingually playful as ever; especially in track 5, titled “Mustache Man.”

The single “Sick of You” is the classic upbeat Cake, with an attention grabbing accented spoken bridge and trumpets throughout. On the whole, the album’s songs are more ballad-heavy, with a little more flourish and a little less grit than Cake’s older work, but still punchy and catchy.

Lyrically, Cake continues to draw on motors and motion in “Showroom of Compassion,” with  “Easy to Crash” standing as a homage and connection to prior motor songs: “The Distance,” “Race Car Ya-Yas,” “Stickshifts and Safety Belts,” “Wheels,”  “Long Line of Cars” and “Carbon Monoxide.” Songs about cars for Cake sometimes express a dark frustration with the modern condition, sometimes a personal drive or nostalgia, and always a sense of energy and movement, connecting the band to their roots in their first album in 1994 titled “Motorcade of Generosity.”

Some incentive for buying the iTunes album over the CD: the iTunes bonus track 12 titled “Huge Misunderstanding” is a nice addition to the album for anyone who likes the few instrumental-only songs of Cake. “Huge Misunderstanding” is sort of the album’s trumpet-y equivalent of “Comfort Eagle’s” “Arco Arena,” low-key with a suggestion of Latin jazz. Included in the regular album, however, is another instrumental piece without vocals, enigmatically titled “Teenage Pregnancy.” The song features a soft piano introduction and escalates to full pop, ending with a suggestion of eastern European and Balkan folk.
“Bound Away,” track 9, highlights Cake’s genre blending, combining a largely country-sounding song in 6/8 time with occasional mariachi music. Similarly, “Italian Guy” is crafted with unexpected musical elements, incorporating heavy violin with sporadic guitar.

The album art is perhaps one of the most striking divergences from their earlier work, making mild changes to their tradition of vintage and quasi-art deco graphics. They maintain their standard band name font, muted pastel cover and page layout, but add to their look swirls and flourishes that frame a red-eyed roaring tiger. Die-hards can appreciate that at least the tiger looks retro.

Ultimately fans will appreciate “Showroom of Compassion’s” staunch loyalty to the Cake sound, which is still highly accessible to new listeners as well. Recent Cake converts, however, should be warned that nothing in their libraries but “Comfort Eagle” or “Fashion Nugget” will really do the band justice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars