Plumbiferous Media

Showroom of Compassion – CAKE

Jan 16th 2011
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Showroom of Compassion - CAKECAKE
Showroom of Compassion
Score: 70

Sacramento band CAKE has returned from its latest break with a new album, Showroom of Compassion. The band, which generally produces albums in three year intervals, has clearly spent quite a bit of time conceptualizing their newest release. Although the band’s members have not changed since before Pressure Chief, there’s a lot that is completely novel for CAKE on Showroom of Compassion, both tonally and thematically. Problems arise with changes, and on Showroom this takes the form of severe levels of repetition, but in the end, the album is still quite interesting, if not excellent.

CAKE’s instrumentals are certainly as strong as ever. Bassist Gabe Nelson is absolutely amazing, and his presence vital on more than a few tracks, such as “The Winter.” Showroom of Compassion also has a bit of an electronic element, especially prevalent on tracks like the intense, slightly industrial “Easy to Crash,” and this, among other elements, absolutely helps with the amazing overall level of diversity on the album.

From the aforementioned track to the relaxed, almost exceedingly simple “Got to Move,” to the moody, beat-heavy “Long Time,” to the piano introduction and later immersion into “Teenage Pregnancy,” Showroom of Compassion is not only amazingly varied but exceedingly well put together. The album may lose its luster to some degree during highly repetitive individual tracks, but the album as a whole is wonderfully constructed. CAKE leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to track order, each song changing the tone of the album significantly, yet never leaving the end result too unconnected.

John McCrea’s unique approach to rock vocals is back in full force on Showroom of Compassion. Alternating between singing, intonation, and simple speech, McCrea creates a sound that is completely his own. It’s not always an entirely successful approach – from time to time it leads to tracks that aren’t as interesting as they could be, as McCrea’s vocal style is, in its less-melodic forms, more of a mainstay than a driver. But with its greater successes, as on opener “Federal Funding,” it complements CAKE’s oft-amusing lyrics, giving them a straightforward air that makes concepts like that of a track dedicated to federal funding even odder than they already are.

And given that Showroom of Compassion begins with a track like “Federal Funding,” it’s a safe bet that it’s written with the same tongue-in-cheek attitude that produced what is perhaps CAKE’s most entertaining track, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” As it turns out, Showroom of Compassion is indeed as entertaining as ever – but it’s prevented from being quite what it could be by near-constant repetition. While CAKE has always inadvisably used repetition as a bit of a crutch, Showroom of Compassion displays new heights of that tendency – there isn’t a single track on the album without at least some over-use of the technique. That doesn’t entirely kill the album, but over the course of 40 minutes it does raise questions about how much of it is actually interesting.

Showroom of Compassion is not a bad album. It is, however, a flawed one. There’s plenty to like, whether it’s CAKE’s entertaining method of writing or simply solid rock instrumentals. At the same time, however, it’s all tied together by a frankly impressive amount of repetition – and there’s really only so much of that a band can get away with without crossing the line into seriously eating into their success. Showroom of Compassion, for everything it does right, crosses that line – before immediately doubling back and crossing it again.

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