Fresh out of its solar-powered oven and into your ear buds, Cake served up its sixth studio album, Showroom of Compassion (Upbeat), on Jan. 11. Recorded in Cake’s eco-friendly and green-powered studio in Sacramento, CA, the album is the band’s first release since 2004’s Pressure Chief (Columbia). And amongst the mainstays of distorted guitars and front man John McCrea’s odd songs about loneliness and discontent, Showroom of Compassion introduces Cake’s first experimentations with acoustic piano and reverb.
Album opener “Federal Funding” begins on a familiar note with a chunky guitar groove and McCrea’s droll, half-sung lyrics describing the petty, mundane bureaucrats squabbling over government handouts to “add another wing / take your colleagues out to dinner, pay your brother to come and sing.” Wailing synthesizers in the background of the track recall a mystical Indian influence and emphasize the perceived power of money.
Midway through the album, a cover of “What’s Now Is Now” reignites the band’s strangely appropriate love of Sinatra, first pinpointed by the song “Frank Sinatra” in 2001’s Fashion Nugget (Volcano). Following their Blue Eyes homage, “Mustache Man (Wasted)” tells a story about a night of one-too-many drinks and bad decisions leading to a view of “the mustache man on the carpet of his van / you can feel your fatty tissues giving way to sweaty hands.” The song’s heavy and ominous guitar then segues into a bittersweet piano melody reminiscent of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” As the eerie, waltzing piano progresses, a single trumpet heralds in the winding instrumental procession of “Teenage Pregnancy” – perhaps the sad conclusion to the previous night with the mustached man.
“Sick Of You,” the album’s first radio single, jumps back to the classic Cake style of catchy guitar distortion and even catchier sing-a-long choruses, reflecting on the inevitability of a life that grew stale long ago. And “Italian Guy,” a strange song even by Cake’s standards, closes out the album with the picture of a well-dressed, aging Italian man nodding along with his thoughts “like he’s making a point / and it’s very important indeed.”
Showroom of Compassion proves that after a six year studio hiatus, Cake is still capable of producing a fantastic album – one that is simultaneously true to form and experimental. With hit singles old and new periodically gracing the airwaves and a steady stream of tour dates, these indie vanguards do not show any signs of slowing down.
– Steve Church, Music Editor