After a seven-year hiatus, '90s alt-rock staple Cake released its seventh record, Showroom of Compassion (Upbeat Records). Recorded entirely in a solar-powered sound studio, the release isn't just off the electrical grid. Somehow surviving into the rocky music world of 2011, Cake's known for a no-apologies blend of satirical, talk-sung lyrics with wacky synth sounds, aggressive rock instrumentals and gratuitous brass (which isn't ska). And Showroom is no exception. Rather than evolve into something more contemporary, Cake has boldly stuck to its brand of rock.
The album opens with an overtly political epic titled "Federal Funding," which speaks like Cream's "Politician" but with the best parts of Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" and the classic Cake of Comfort Eagle to boot. John McCrea's monotone balances out a piano interlude and harrowing bass line. "Sick of You" charted as the album's first single and is a perfect gateway into the days when Beck's "Loser" was making the rounds on MTV.
The album is squeaky clean. It feels as though the band went back and listened to everything it had made in its 20-year career, and found ways to do it one better. "Bound Away" manages to seem vintage folk, mariachi and modern-day indie. At the other end, the same pairing of synth, brass and rock that garnered them major success with "The Distance" is rife in "Easy to Crash." This song shows experimentation in the work done by the guitars, the synth funk lines and the brass accoutrements. "Clouds hung hugely and oppressively," McCrea drones, "We didn't notice, we didn't care."
There's something to love for both the faithful and new Cake fans. A long hiatus could've meant relative obscurity, and pandering to only the fan base. Rather, Cake smoothed the rough edges of its musicianship, and came out better for it.