The first Cake album was released in 1994. I was an 8-year-old brat. O.J. Simpson was all over the news. Kurt Cobain put his mouth around a shotgun barrel and the Internet was just growing in public interest. Much has changed. Cake—not so much, aside from a few members. They found a perfect balance between funk virtuosity and catatonic vocals during the early 90s. Like a flatlined James Brown on a hospital bed—still dancing, somehow. They haven’t strayed much beyond that formula.
Cake’s new album, Showroom of Compassion will not disappoint old Cake fans. It’s familiar enough to enthuse veteran listeners, yet distinct enough to attract a whole range of new fans. “Easy to Crash” sets the time with allusions toward the circus that is our economy. It opens with the line, “Clouds hung hugely and oppressively.” So you know it’s bad when even the clouds are oppressive. “Bound Away” lays down lap slide guitar, some Texas twang and waltz-esque vocal patters. It would sound great on a country themed album, but here it’s more out of place, than commonplace. “Italian Guy” is a song that should have been cut from the album. It hangs on as the closing track like scab.
Cake continues their political mantra, opening with the line, “You’ll receive the federal funding, you can add another wing.” It’s money talk which, like most Cake lyrics, is only slightly comprehensible (Cake lyrics remind me of Jack Kerouac—beatnik ramblings that are amusing to the ear, but less enjoyable when you try to decode them).
The economic caricature returns on “Easy to Crash” with a little more comprehension. So we get it. This album is in the same bad mood everyone else is stuck feeling–shitty. And just when I thought one of my favorite lesser-known, 90s pop bands could pick me up. In fact, the album as a whole is full of bad vibes, but you can’t judge an album for feeling blue. There’s just not much vibrancy to take these vibes across the goal line. The catchy verses, perfected bass lines and crisp mixing can’t keep me interested without some intense form of emotional dissonance. And every time that trumpet chimes is, I feel like kid again, and I could care less about the economy.
If you like Cake or enjoyed the 90s, then you’ll like Showroom of Compassion. It’s full of catchy tracks, one or two you might even hear on your local alternative radio station. They still pump out hits and there’s no sign that this is there last hurrah. But no matter what album cake puts out, they’ll always go down in my books as some of the best white-boy bass lines since Wild Cherry.