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Record Review: Cake’s Showroom of Compassion

By / Posted on 21 January 2011

Cake's Showroom of CompassionIt would be easy to start this review off with a sample of lyrics from “Long Time,” the second track off of Showroom of Compassion, Cake’s first album in over six years. Trite, easy, and redundant. We did a whole piece last week on how long it’s been since we heard Cake, so let’s just point out that four of Kanye West’s five albums have come out between 2004′s Pressure Chief and now. Is Showroom of Compassion, Cake’s self-published return, worth the wait? Well… yes? Sort of? It’s not bad, it’s just, well, not as great as we’ve come to expect from one of the most fun and innovative pop bands in recent history.

The choice of “Sick of You” as a single is curious, as the song is neither typical Cake single nor anything startling or provocatively new. It reeks of the bar band sing-along, the way more forgettable bands like Stroke 9 chose their singles. When looking for an auditory follow-up to career-defining hits like “Never There” and “The Distance,” Showroom rockers “Mustache Man (Wasted)” and “Long Time” come far closer in accessibility and pure boppishness (the scale by which the listener is likely to bop their upper body along with the tempo). Conceptually, the message is nice and standard Cake; that our hatemongering society has reached such an extreme that simply hating broad themes like politics or celebrity will steadily work their way back to hating personal items and, eventually, oneself. The problem lies in its presentation, which seems overly focus-grouped to be as mainstream-acceptable as possible, losing a tremendous amount of personality. Perhaps this is a clever and intentional nod at the song’s message, but I doubt it.

An unfortunate realization, once reality sets in and the nostalgia has washed away from your ears, is that Showroom of Compassion is an ultimately inconsistent record. Cake have always been praised for their genre-defying range, but there is little to no connect between the songs on this particular disc, making it feel less like an album and more like a compilation, especially as tracks are almost perfectly broken up successively into A-sides and B-sides. “Bound Away” is a meandering western bar jam to counter “Easy To Crash”‘s polished aggressive post-alternative rock, just as the swirling rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “What’s Now is Now” is the mint ice cream atop “Got to Move”‘s comforting apple pie of Americana. Were Showroom of Compassion split after every other track as five singles (excepting the marvelous instrumental “Teenage Pregnancy” as a third bonus track on one of the singles), each of the five would have been quite good, with every individual song shining in its own regards. As a collection, Showroom is more like Les Savy Fav’s Inches compilation, only not spanning such a large timeline of the band’s career, and therefore far less interesting.

The end result is eleven songs that, on their own, are very good but, as a collection, feel unresolved. The lows are never as low as the past, and the highs reach for the goddamn stars (“Easy to Crash” is one of the most plainly cool songs Cake has ever produced, emphasized by the band’s laissez-faire attitude) but are dragged down by a package that shuffles its feet. Showroom of Compassion is still well worth a listen, especially by longtime Cake fans (read: everyone, whether you know it or not), but we hope it won’t be quite as long before we hear their next package.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.