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Cake - Topic

Prolonging the Magic Play

Cake's attempt to make a smug- and irony-free album, the band's third release does hold back the barbs a bit more than usual, even if they do fall back into familiar territory: postmodern takes on postmodern life. Flipping between earnest alt-rock rhythms and jittery, funky jazz, Prolonging the Magic works best when Cake lay on the irony extra heavy, or when they make their sober ambitions mesh slightly with the type of smart-ass pop they've based a career on (like "Never There"). At least they seem to realize their place in the alt-rock universe as a novelty band with chops, counteracting the genre's overwhelming seriousness with a light dose of heavy-handed yuks. ~ Michael Gallucci, Rovi

Pressure Chief Play

Released in 2004, Pressure Chief marks Cake's tenth year with a set of sardonic, engaging alternative pop that shows the Sacramento band's economical sound unwilted after all these years. Chief features artwork and typography typical to the group, as well the familiar three-color print scheme and stiff cardstock paper. John McCrea's wit is as dry as ever, and his tongue has grown sharper with the addition of a social comment streak that occasionally goes quite cynical. Single "No Phone" decries the encroachment of technology, while "Carbon Monoxide" is an upbeat, Beatlesque number that nevertheless wonders cynically, "Where's the air?" Later, the wispily funky "Tougher Than It Is" encourages listeners to take it easy, because life's going to keep throwing curve balls anyway. Cake have always positioned themselves as cultural observers, but McCrea's opinions on Chief rely more on clarity than wryness. This doesn't make the album a downer. It opens with "Wheels," a song built from the best parts of Cake's thrifty yet effective arsenal. McCrea's narrative mostly concerns a breakup, and life moving on ("Wheels keep on spinning 'round..."). But his imagery is on overdrive once he hits the singles bar, where the "Muscular cyborg German dudes dance with sexy French Canadians." The song's punctuated by a classic Vince Di Fiore descending trumpet line and some fan-favorite "HEY!"s from McCrea. In the tradition of "I Will Survive," the band tackles another cover song, this time reinterpreting Bread's "Guitar Man." With its vintage synthesizers squiggling off the cues of an acoustic guitar, their version meanders at a comforting pace akin to Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1," and even gives McCrea a chance to sing a little. Other highlights include "She'll Hang the Baskets," where guest Chuck Prophet fills out the mournful melody with some fuzzily toned electric guitar, and "Dime," where the charmingly home-recorded quality of Pressure Chief really stands out. Smart, subtly subversive, and always catchy -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. ~ Johnny Loftus, Rovi

Fashion Nugget Play

Sounding like a suburban, melodic, white funk-injected version of King Missile's performance art/standup comedy, "The Distance" became a novelty hit in the fall of 1996, sending Cake's second album, Fashion Nugget, to platinum status. Certainly, "The Distance" was the only reason Fashion Nugget went platinum, because the remainder of the album is too collegiate and arcane for mainstream music tastes. It isn't because it's obscure or intellectual -- it's because the band is smirking. An "ironic" cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is the key to the album, sending the signal that nothing is too insignificant to make fun of. Their blend of collegiate musical styles -- funk, hip-hop, alternative rock -- makes the music easy to digest in small doses, such as "The Distance." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Comfort Eagle Play

While so many rock bands try to reinvent themselves with every new album, Cake has made a name for itself by sticking to its brand of smirking funk-pop. Blending jazz, rockabilly, experimental rock, and a little less country than usual, Comfort Eagle, the band's first album since leaving Capricorn Records for Columbia, carries on the Cake tradition of offbeat humor and catchy melodies. While some fans may be waiting for its sound to evolve, singer/songwriter John McCrea and company seem content to reign over their quirky little corner of the popular music landscape. "Opera Singer" and the first single, "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," follow in the footsteps of Cake's previous hits, but are no less enjoyable because of it. "Shadow Stabbing" is one of the most straightforward rock songs the band has ever recorded, with McCrea forgoing his usual half-spoken vocals for an almost irony-free delivery. While it is still unmistakably Cake, it would sound right at home on a Cars album. The rest of the album is by the numbers Cake, which is comforting and slightly disappointing at the same time. The group has certainly perfected its sound, and one can understand why it would be hesitant to turn its back on its extremely distinctive style, but with Comfort Eagle Cake comes dangerously close to simply remaking its previous release, Prolonging the Magic. While new fans might enjoy Comfort Eagle on its own merits, Cake followers may feel as though they've bought the same album twice. However, both albums are strong enough that they probably won't mind. ~ Mark Vanderhoff, Rovi

Showroom of Compassion Play

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. This might suggest Cake haven't grown or changed much during the long layoff between 2004's Pressure Chief and 2011's Showroom of Compassion, and in many respects, that's true, but the flatness of McCrea's vocal delivery sounds noticeably less smug this time out, and while his deadpan tone is as bent as ever, on a few of these songs he suggests some compassion might lurk in his heart, a welcome development to be sure. And while most of these tunes maintain the funky tone that's Cake's trademark, there's enough straightforward rock & roll and quirky pop (and even a dash of country) to keep the album from sounding too lamentably consistent. After paying oblique homage to Frank Sinatra in 1996's Fashion Nugget, here Cake actually cover one of Ol' Blue Eyes lesser-known tunes ("What's Now Is Now," from Sinatra's unjustly obscure concept album Watertown), and McCrea and company twist it to their own purposes without sounding as if they're ranking out on the original. And though it's as hard as ever to figure out just what Cake are on about on most of these tunes (especially on the dour but dramatic instrumental "Teenage Pregnancy,") "Sick of You" and "The Winter" are straightforward enough to offer a break from the irony. It's worth noting that after dealing with major labels since 1995, Cake have opted to release Showroom Of Compassion on their own label, and even recorded the whole thing in their own solar-powered recording studio; they're not just committing to their own weirdness, they're banking on it, and the results are good enough to suggest they're not so crazy to be investing in their own distaff vision of the world. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

B-Sides and Rarities Play

After five mostly successful studio albums, the time seemed ripe in 2007 for a cash-in "Best Of" from irony-heavy pop/rockers Cake. But instead of a typical romp through the band's catalog highlights, frontman John McCrea and company gathered this set of "rarities." While there are some interesting and hard to find sides here, this is a far too brief 12-track, 40-minute compilation. There are virtually no liner notes nor any indication of what year the songs were recorded, or in the case of the B-sides, what the A-side was, which is an unforgivable omission for a historical overview of this type. Everything screams quickie, from the haphazard track sequencing, to the lack of information in the pamphlet and the lackluster graphics. If this is indeed made for die-hard Cake fans, and who else would even pick it up? It's a shoddy, short set that doesn't show respect for the group's dedicated followers, of whom there are many. A full ten minutes of the album's already meager running time is dedicated to two versions of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," with the opening one a studio recording, and the unlisted final cut a live performance. While both are interesting angles on a song that appears to be outside even Cake's eclectic scope, they are similar enough that the repetition only pads the disc's slim contents. McCrea exposes his love of country with respectful run-throughs of Kenny Rogers & the First Edition's hit arrangement of "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town" and Buck Owens' "Excuse Me, I Think I've Got a Heartache" that don't add anything interesting to the classic versions. Much better is Cake's take on Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up," which twists the tune through McCrea's built-in sarcasm resulting in the album's most attention-grabbing performance. The spoken word "Thrills" is a cool and strange oddity that gives trumpet player Vince DiFore a chance to solo. Live recordings, although ones without any crowd sounds including applause, of "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" and "It's Coming Down" aren't substantially different than the originals. A smarmy, unfunny "Strangers in the Night" sounds like it was done as a goof in rehearsals, and the short instrumental "Conroy" appears to be cooked up in McCrea's home studio in a few minutes when he was bored. There isn't much of interest for devoted Cake followers and nothing for newcomers, who are advised to avoid this in lieu of the band's first few releases. The better selections would have made logical additions to a hits assemblage, but this is a disappointing odds and sods product for the longtime fans it is clearly geared to attract. ~ Hal Horowitz, Rovi
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