Deadpan, dirty-mouthed, and….delicious…Cake (
usually in all-caps to avoid a lawsuit from the beloved dessert) has had quite the unusual career.
A five-piece band, including a trumpeter, the band has received no love in way of awards, and has only had one album crack the Billboard Top 10. The album was Showroom of Compassion, a record that came out after a seven-year major release drought. I don’t get no respect!
Cake has been around for a surprising 20 years. So, let’s sample the many stylings of this genre-bending band.
Motorcade of Generosity (1991)
“Jesus Wrote a Blank Check”
The oddly titled song desperately tries to be folksy and at times seems to be Bob Dylan-esque. Not much of the band’s later music touches upon this feel, and probably for good reason too. While this song isn’t horrible, it’s not what Cake does best.
“Rock N’ Roll Lifestyle”
Now, this is more like it! “Rock N’ Roll Lifestyle” is the exact type of song one hears when Cake is mentioned. It’s fun, it has singer John McCrea’s oddly appealing deadpan delivery, and it has grungy guitar with some light-hearted trumpet and percussive work. Not to mention the shouting background vocals that always give Cake somewhat of a ska feel.
Fashion Nugget (1996)
I’ll preface the songs I mention here by saying this is my favorite Cake album. It’s complete and has a wonderful mix of songs. BEGIN!
Not your typical Cake song. McCrea is barely sarcastic and while guitarist Greg Brown’s is still grungy, the supporting cast is rather subdued. However, “Frank Sinatra” is still amazing, especially for an opener. The lyrics are fantastic, and the song doesn’t impose, never asking too much of its listeners.
The first quintessential Cake song. Its rap-rock feel makes this an odd song in a pop cultural sense, yet it was still pretty successful commercially. There seems to be some story behind the song, as McCrea’s monotone tells of someone racing to a woman in need…who knows? The thumping, bass-heavy support from drummer Todd Roper and bassist Victor Damiani matches McCrea’s delivery perfectly. Oddly enough, the song features very little guitar, despite being written by Brown.
“I Will Survive”
Cake’s cover of Gloria Gaynor’s hit can only be described as hilarious. This is McCrea deadpan at its most sarcastic. What’s funnier is that Gaynor said that this is her least favorite cover of the song because of the use of profanity. (“I should have changed my fucking lock, I would have made you leave your key.”) Covering disco? Another bizarre choice, but characteristically Cake.
“Italian Leather Sofa”
Trumpet heavy, funny, and irreverent. Classic Cake. But it’s the one drawn out line that really puts this song over the top:
“He’s got a gold watch, she’s got a silk dress and healthy breasts…that bounce
…on his…Italian….leather sofa.”
Prolonging the Magic (1998)
The band went through changes at this point, losing Brown and Damiani.
“Satan is My Motor”
A noticeable lack of trumpet and change in guitar style. Without Brown, the feel is a lot more laidback and poppy. Still got the classic McCrea deadpan though.
Whatever Cake did in “Satan is My Motor,” they decided to the exact opposite in this song. It’s darker, McCrea is nearly in monotone during the verses and while still clean, the guitar has shows some signs of grunge. Trumpeter Vince DiFiore returns again, getting significantly more spotlight than in “Satan is My Motor.”
Comfort Eagle (2001)
Cake’s best-known songs live here.
Part of a string of songs that have a cheery, poppier feel. Cake changed their style up a bit here, without selling out, of course. Maybe it’s from being featured in the movie Orange County, but this song always exuded a nice summery feel, with a complete lack of grunge and a clean overall sound. McCrea’s delivery also is airier, one of the more noticeable differences in the song.
“Short Skirt/Long Jacket”
I’d say this song is tied with “The Distance” for the most popular Cake song. And it certainly deserves to be. It’s funny, catchy, and even fits within what we’d expect to see from the band. The lyricism and delivery is just phenomenal, including this gem:
“I want a girl with a smooth liquidation / I want a girl with the right dividends / And at the city bank we will meet accidentally / we’ll start to talk when she borrows my pen.”
A pure instrumental song that restores the grunge. It was also sampled by Jay-Z in “Guns and Roses,” which makes this song even cooler. It just seems like they really enjoyed one jam session and threw it on the album. Smart move.
Dirtier, darker, and deadpan-ier, the titular song in this album is also sorts of odd. But, as most bizarre things with Cake go, it means it’s a better song. McCrea sounds like he’s shouting through some sort of megaphone, as if he were some sort of propagandist. Then again, the actual lyrics make light of the song’s bleak tone.
Pressure Chief (2004)
A great song, but a different Cake. McCrea seems pained throughout this album, his voice has lost some of its deadpan and is a bit more somber.
Showroom of Compassion (2011)
End of the hiatus.
“Sick of You”
Is Cake trying to send signals? This is not the instrumentation we’re used to. It’s more generic, and doesn’t have either the lighter fun side, or the muddier side.. But it’s still good music, it’s just not the weird Cake that can surprise us. Farewell, old friend.
And so ends Cake’s journey, hungry?