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Recycling: Good for aluminum, bad for Cake

January 27th, 2011

Dear Cake, I’m bored. 

If I were allowed to turn in four-word reviews that would be the best way to describe my reaction to Cake’s newest album “Showroom of Compassion.” 

There was a seven-year gap between Showroom’s Jan. 11 release and the band’s previous album, but I’m starting to question what John McCrea and company have been doing since 2004.

The album isn’t terrible, but it isn’t amazing either. The whole record just sort of isn’t. 

In interviews leading up to its release frontman McCrea, whose distinct, half-barked singing has always defined Cake, claimed that the band had gone in a totally different direction with their sound and approach to making music. 

I don’t believe him. Yes, there have been some tweaks, but there is a big difference between putting lipstick on a pig and signing it up for “Extreme Makeover” and plastic surgery. 

“Easy to Crash” has a slightly more expansive sound than anything Cake has ever done, and the 2:40 piano-driven instrumental “Teenage Pregnancy” is totally different, but overall the changes are few and far between.

The 11 songs themselves don’t break new ground in any sense. 

Cake’s work has always loosely focused on some odd themes, but on “Showroom” the band clings to them. “Federal Funding” has the same unemotional paranoia “Comfort Eagle” did in 2001. 

Three separate tracks are about cars and none is as fun as “Stickshifts and Safetybelts” was the first time I heard it in 1996. 

The album’s saving grace is “Long Time” which perfectly combines keys and background chants that would fit in at a $5 haunted house with McCrea’s off-beat and off-tempo singing. 

“Long Time” is an undeniably sexy take on reminiscing, and it saves the album from being a total waste of time.

There is a difference between a band having a unique sound and putting out the same record twice. “Showroom of Compassion” fits firmly into the latter distinction. I’ve heard this album before and it was better the first time around. 

It’s still Cake and it’s still easy to listen to, but it leaves me wanting more the same way Jared Fogle is secretly not full after finishing his cold-cut combo. 

For the first time ever on a Cake album I have an urge to hit the skip button, multiple times. On any other record the band has released, a ho-hum reaction would be a mortal sin, but with more snoozers than good songs it’s inevitable. 

I could make a terrible pun about Cake’s new album needing to show room for compassion for their fans who expect more than this, but that’s below even me. 

The album’s lead single “Sick of You” has a sense of apathy that might as well be describing the album as a whole. On it McCrea claims to be “sick of you, me, work and play.” Is it a cry for help? 

Probably not, but it is as close to a thesis statement as this album will get. He’s bored, I’m bored, it’s bored, we’re bored. No matter how you conjugate it “Showroom of Compassion” is missing something. I took more words than I originally needed, but the message is the same at 568 as it is at four: I’m disappointed in you Cake.