John McCrea and Cake have spent the last seventeen years providing the world with the musical equivalent to comfort food. Their ironic slacker aesthetic, coupled with a persistant bass-and-horn groove, has permeated the band’s first five albums, and though it’s been seven years since we’ve been graced with a new album from the Sacramento band, it’s usually clear from the first few notes exactly what we can expect from new songs.
That same ideal holds true on their sixth album, the ironically-titled Showroom of Compassion, which comes complete with artwork involving the mauling of a man by a red-eyed tiger. Most recent mentions of Cake have gravitated toward their latest single, “Sick of You,” which has peaked at #4 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and it is deservedly so. The song is a perfect reintroduction to the world of Cake, hearkening back to the heyday of “The Distance,” complete with pulsating bass, rising choruses of horns, and McCrea’s patented droll vocal delivery. If the truism that everything comes full circle can be believed, Cake has managed to round the bend and return to its heyday without ever really leaving the groove it created in the first place.
But the band’s not just treading water here. “Long Time” features pulsating synths and McCrea’s vocals surrounded by tight harmonies from the rest of the band, before the traditional bass comes in and propels the song straight into one of the tightest, hook-filled choruses the band’s had since “Never There” off Prolonging The Magic. And “Got To Move” may be the band’s most straightforward song, free of most of McCrea’s usual vocal tics and inflections. Though he doesn’t have to stretch his vocal range much, the song’s still a refreshing example of the band trying to push their sound in new directions.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Cake album without a few oddities. The first track, “Federal Funding,” hits you with McCrea sarcastically spitting of pork-barrel politics. “You’ll receive the federal funding, you can add another wing,” he sings. “Take your colleagues out to dinner, pay your brother to come and sing.” The whole song sounds like a psychedelic sixties protest throwback, though filtered through Cake’s musical worldview. And the requisite instrumental, “Teenage Pregnancy,” is handled with aplomb, as bandleader McCrea leads the band through a track that builds from bare piano to full-on idiosyncratic bliss as bass, synths and horns unite to craft the oddest few minutes you’re likely to hear on any album in 2011.
All told, this is an album which is going to leave Cake purists satisfied, and with “Sick of You” fully immersing the internet generation in the glory of early-90s Cake, it’s likely the rest of the album is going to both please and confound those who are new to the party. There’s no other band out there today doing what this band does, and for that we all should be clamoring for another piece, even if the next album takes another seven years to see the light of day.