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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