Cake, Showroom of Compassion

Posted on January 17, 2011 by

Artist: Cake
Title: Showroom of Compassion
Label: Upbeat Records 99332
Released: January 11, 2011

And there’s Jimmy Fallon skating away on the cover of Rolling Stone. (January 20, 2011 RS1122) I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between that and the Springsteen on ice cover from February 5, 1981 (RS336). Maybe after thirty years, Rolling Stone thought no one was still paying attention or would have the brain cells to remember.

This lack of originality immediately brought upon my skepticism and tainted the contents of the magazine. When I came upon the review of the new Cake album. I saw they had given it three of five stars. I’ve never been a Cake fan. In their defense, I was basing my judgment on one song, “The Distance,” from their 1996 sophomore effort, Fashion Nugget. The song irritated me so that I never wanted to give them my time. My friends tried to advise me otherwise, but I never took heed. Nor was a three-star review going to change my mind.

A flip of the page and I saw a review of a Billy Joel re-issue, The Hits. It received four stars out of the possible five, thus making it superior to the Cake album by Rolling Stone standards.

Billy Joel, for me, was a great motivator. When I hear his music on the airwaves, you’ll never see me move any faster than when I jump to change the radio station. I was bombarded by The Stranger as a teen. I was tormented by requests for “Piano Man” as a hack dee jay in various bars during the 80s. “Uptown Girl” was an homage to the Four Seasons, another band I detest.

So how could this be? Something that sounded worse than a Billy Joel hits package? I couldn’t believe it. It was like Rolling Stone threw down the gauntlet. I bought Showroom of Compassion.

I had high hopes for this album. I wanted to prove Rolling Stone wrong. I wanted to like another band so I could buy their back catalog and discover more great music. But upon listening to the album, I found a more correct title to be, Showroom of Apathy.

On the first track, “Federal Funding,” John McCrea sings:

“You’ll receive the federal funding,
You can add another wing.
Take your colleagues out to dinner,
Pay your brother to come and sing.”

The song is obviously about political palm greasing and glad-handing. I do not have an issue with topical pop. McCrea’s monotone delivery bleats like a sheep as he stretches out the final note of the verse.

Is it a marvel in song construction, mimicking the sheep that we are in our willingness to follow our leaders? Could be. But it’s also fucking irritating!

It doesn’t get much better in the vocal melodies department. “Got to Move” has slight melodic resemblance to the The Mindbender’s “Groovy Kind of Love,” but it lacks any of the sweetness. McCrea takes the time to bitterly condemn someone he knows.

Side two opens with an instrumental that has the joy of a Scandinavian funeral procession. The number is called, “Teenage Pregnancy.” The song is then followed by the single, “Sick Of You;” one of the few up tempo tracks on the album, but not upbeat in sentiment.

“I’m sick of you / so sick of me / I don’t want to be with you.”

And then there’s the spoken interlude, a bit of a Cake trademark:

“Every camera / Every phone / All the music that you own / won’t change the fact / that you’re all alone.”

I don’t mind bitter songs, but the whole damn album has this feeling of loathing and apathy. There isn’t a break in the clouds. The track, “Easy to Crash” reconfirms it as McCrea sings, “We didn’t notice / We didn’t care / It would be easy to crash.”

“Moustache Man” has this sense of urgency with its pseudo-mariachi horn intro, driving like a spaghetti western. But as we approach the chorus, the message is, “I have wasted so much time.”

And it seems like a waste of time. If that’s what it’s all about, then Cake has created a masterpiece of dissipation of art. I find myself drained after listening to Showroom of Compassion. I feel empty. I can agree with there sentiments to a certain degree, but I find very little celebration in the album. If that’s their schtick, then they’ve succeeded. If not, Billy Joel sings in “The Stranger”,” “Don’t be afraid to try again / Everyone goes south every now and then.”

I could take the single, “Sick of You” outside the album as a little piece of nastiness, but I do not need a half hour of abhorrence and impassiveness. I should have just bought the single.

So is the Cake record worse than Billy Joel’s The Hits? Rolling Stone hit it right on with the exception that they should use a ten-star rating and keep the assigned grades for the two respective pieces.

One Response to “Cake, Showroom of Compassion”

  1. Chuck Anderson says:

    Thank you for ripping on the Four Seasons, it saved me the trouble.

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