CAKE is back, and they’re all over the place—again.
Showroom of Compassion, the band’s first studio album in seven years, has at its core a hodgepodge of influences from all across the musical spectrum. Despite singer John McCrea’s assertion that Showroom sounds “very different” from CAKE’s previous offerings, however, fans probably won’t notice any dramatic shift in their overall sound here. Yes, there is reverb now. Yes, there is a bit of lonesome piano. But make no mistake: this album still has everything inside it that made CAKE popular in the first place.
It starts from the first seconds of the first song, “Federal Funding.” A lightly-distorted electric guitar, some MIDI electronics for flavor, and McCrea’s bluesy repetition; nothing sounds more like CAKE. “Long Time” switches into dance mode, with a generous helping of “Oohh whhooaa ohh whooaa” that helps to make sure the beat is just that much more infectious. And then there’s “Got to Move,” which sounds like a discarded track from Beatles for Sale plus some slow drum fills. (In fact, there’s a lot on the album that sounds deceptively like early Beatles material, particularly “Sick of You,” which seems to take a few cues from Rubber Soul—notably in the guitar riffs and mostly utilitarian drums.)
But all of this genre-hopping is very much a part of CAKE’s identity as a band, and—to the album’s benefit—is deeply ingrained in McCrea’s lyrical work. He’s never found it difficult to move from traditional bluegrass to jacked-in dance pop, and he certainly isn’t shying away now. “Bound Away” is home to an unexpected amount of lap steel and heartbreaking harmony, and its lyrics—obviously the story of a man ever bound for the horizon—accentuate what brings the album together: Every song has a slow push forward to it, an sense of urgency. “We can’t look back,” it says, “we’ve already been there.”
And though CAKE isn’t really exploring new ground for itself, it doesn’t make any difference in the end; it’s an album you can dance to all over again for the first time.