Cake's fifth is simple as pie

Oct. 12, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 3 months ago

Like an actual cake in all of its frosted glory, the pastry-related headline was awfully hard to resist when it came time to title this review. My sincerest apologies.

Cake's newest release, Pressure Chief, is a testament to the band's surprising and unfaltering longevity, as well as the ability of a band to sound the same album after blissful album, despite numerous line-up changes. The strategy of Cake seems to be roughly this: stare boredly at various musical trends, fold arms across chests. Then, every two years or so, grab the guitars and trumpet, churn out another catchy if formulaic album. Rinse, lather and repeat.

Pressure Chief isn't one to buck the trend. Cake is about as amorphous as a giant slab of slate, the musical antithesis of artsy-fartsy bands like Radiohead (who feels the need to change its style beyond recognition between each CD). If change is your musical bag, this Cake won't taste very good. Otherwise, feel free to grab a plastic fork and a pink and yellow party plate.

Chief leads in with the incessantly catchy "Wheels," which essentially boils down to a slick, funked-up version of "The Wheels on the Bus." The driving bass line and muggy horn work are perfect complements to lead singer John McCrea's infamous plain vocals as he twines about love, distance, and a karaoke bar. The next track and first single, "No Phone," is a synth-driven ditty that always seems to be falling, whether it be the lilting vocals, gritty guitar work or the minor key overtones. The album's third track, "Take It All Away," is similarly inclined and is the last jazzy number for a while. Featuring simple drum work, pounding synth and horn beats and plaintive, monosyllabic lyrics, the song is Cake at its best and blusiest.

From there, Chief takes a turn for the lighter, with the upbeat and quirky "Dime" and more upbeat and quirkier "Carbon Monoxide." The former contains, easily, the cleverest lyrics this side of The Red hot Chili Peppers. "I'm a dime/I'm fine/I shine/I'm silver-plated/I'm overrated/And you won't even pick me up because I'm not enough for a local phone call" laments McCrea during the song's incredibly bubbly chorus. Even in "Carbon Monoxide," a song which sounds like it belongs in the bottom category of all music ever created (that is, songs sung by Bar Mitzvah reception bands), Cake's endearing wit and lyrical genius is apparent.

After a refreshing cover of Bread's "The Guitar Man," Chief hits a rough patch. "Waiting," "She'll Hang the Baskets" and "End of the Movie" are all pretty and electronic but lack the excitement and shininess of much of the rest of the album. "Waiting" is a particularly apt title among these tracks; whether one wants to select the obvious "waiting to be excited" line or the slightly less obvious "waiting for the rest of the album to arrive" is up to one's own personal preference.

Luckily, Cake outros powerfully. "Palm of Your Hand" is reminiscent of Prolonging the Magic's "Let Me Go" in its country-rock sensibilities and lost-love-laden lyrics, and finds a happy medium between the poppy beginning of the album and the drawl that the previous three tracks established. "Tougher Than It Is," the album's closer, is vintage Cake: simple, catchy and downright happy. The background of pulsing drums and jazz-club worthy trumpetation churns along while McCrea croons, "Some people like to make life/A little tougher than it is," a line that fits not only people in life, but people in the music industry, as well. Some people like to make music a little more complex than it needs to be.

People have complained about Cake's overly simplistic lyrics, seemingly manufactured rhythms and formulaic stylings. Those people are missing the point. The best things in life are free, the simplest the most beautiful. Every so often, one has to put down his "low-fi" indie music, his over-produced hip-hop, her computer-generated pop stars, and listen to the beautiful sound of true simplicity. And Cake's Pressure Chief is just the album to turn to.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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