Street Sounds: Cake delivers slack attack

Music reviewer Dean Gordon-Smith listens to band Cake's latest: Showroom of Compassion.

Consider the lyrics to this song: “You’ll receive the federal funding/you can add another wing/Take your colleagues out to dinner/Pay your brother to come and sing.”

It’s not often that such deliberate weirdness is so tuneful and rocking. There’s a dirty, slack edge that adds to the enjoyment, but a question will linger on when listening to Cake and songs like Federal Funding. Are they ever serious?

The group, especially lead vocalist Joel McCrea and guitarist Xan McCurdy, are masters of deception, making the offbeat and the whacked sound completely deadpan. It’s a balancing act of commitment and eccentricity.

Showroom of Compassion is the band’s sixth album and is their first self-produced recording and first label-less release. Cake also made the album in their own solar-powered studio – sounds serious! But (and it’s a big but), they sound as odd and rocking as ever.

The material on Showroom of Compassion is rife with angular cheeky riffs, churning bass and the purposeful, left-field slack attack of vocalist McCrea.

An interesting fact is how little the band has departed from its earlier production style while adding on a kitchen sink cache of weird instruments. Keyboardist Vincent DiFiore uses everything from a Wurlitzer to a trumpet to euphonium. His trumpet dominates while the rest are melted casually into the mix.

Fans or new initiates to Cake should hear how the group mixes the odd, the slack and the imaginative on tracks Federal Funding, What’s Now is Now (a Sinatra cover), the twanging stomp of Mustache Man (Wasted) and Sick of You.

They have moments of reflection (the semi-sombre instrumental, Teenage Pregnancy), but like the bulk of Cake’s music, a grain of salt should be taken to enjoy this happily unconventional sound to the fullest.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a local musician who reviews CDs for The Morning Star. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday.