|Cake - Pressure Chief|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 05 October 2004|
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cake is one of the most original, witty and unique-sounding bands I have ever heard. Hailing from my hometown of Sacramento California, I’ll admit I am a little biased due to the fact that I have been going to Cake concerts since I was just a young ’un in high school when the band was pressing their own CDs and selling themselves in the back of clubs. From the first time I heard this quirky pop, folk funk quartet at a little hole in the wall club just outside downtown Sacramento, I was hooked. I had heard rumors that the band was going to call it quits after three albums, yet with Pressure Thief, the band is now on their fifth studio album, obviously debunking the rumors that they were going away.
A handful of moderately successful radio and MTV hit songs and a few soundtrack appearances have helped Cake become somewhat known in the mainstream of music. Most people who listen to alternative music have probably heard Cake before, most likely their first real hit song “The Distance,” but why is it that a band that could have easily been lumped into the novelty rock song world alongside bands like The Presidents of the United States of America and the Toadies is enjoying such a long and steady career? The answer is simple. They are very talented songwriters and musicians and their albums are not just one hit song alongside a bunch of filler. Every single Cake album has been full of great songs and Pressure Chief is yet another feather in the band’s cap.
Somewhere between their first album Motorcade of Generosity and their second album Fashion Nugget, someone in Cake, most likely original member Vincent Di Fiore, began skillfully integrating a keyboard sound into many Cake songs that sounds like a Theremin. The result is a sound that is equally reminiscent of mid-‘90s Dr. Dre rap songs and Beach Boys jams like “Good Vibrations.” Combining this sound with the folksy yet poppy acoustic ukulele and voice of lead singer John McCrea, Cake’s sound is one of the most unique things in music today.
The first single from Pressure Chief titled “No Phone” at first sounds like it’s almost a sequel to their hit “Never There,” in that both songs start with the sound of a phone before kicking in. That is where the similarities really end, as the lyrics of the songs are polar opposites. On “Never There,” singer McCrea is longing for a woman who never seems to give him the time of day. On “No Phone,” McCrea now wants his privacy and is having one of those days where he wants “No phone, no phone, I just want to be alone today.” It’s one of those songs that anyone who has a hectic life can relate to. There are days you want to just shut everything out, turn off the phone ringer and pretend the world doesn’t exist. Don’t get the idea that Cake is a negative, dark band. Most of their music is upbeat and positive.
Doing cover songs of past hits seems to be a pretty common thing these days for alternative bands. Case in point, I’m listing to Korn doing Cameo’s “Word Up” on Sirius Satellite radio as I write this review. However, Cake’s choice of a tune to cover is much more obscure. If you don’t know about soft rock hippie rockers Bread, you are missing out. Cake plucks the ultra-cool song “Guitar Man” from the Bread back catalogue and puts their own spin on it. What better for a band called Cake to cover than a song by a band called Bread anyway? Listening to this song, I started to realize that Cake is really a band that could have been just as successful in the ‘70s as they are today. I’ve been listening to a lot of late ‘60s/early ‘70s hippie rock as of late (don’t ask me why) and Cake has more in common with these kinds of artists than much of the brainless alternative rock than I hear ad nauseum on FM radio today.
With only 11 songs, most of them abut three minutes long, I was a little disappointed that there was so little musical content on Pressure Thief, but the music that is on this disc is all good. I can certainly see how Cake could be lost on many casual music fans that don’t like a strange edge to their music. On “Dime,” McCrea, in his almost beat-poet style, sings about what it would be like to be a 10-cent piece. “When I'm on the ground I roll through town, I'm a president you don't remember getting kicked around.” This brilliant piece of lyric writing, with its reference to Nixon (yes I know Nixon isn’t on the dime), is just one of many things that make Cake so great in my opinion. Their music mixes acoustic instruments like trumpets, guitars and drums with a whole host of percussion instruments and some tastefully done electronic synths and drum beats. The only other modern alternative artist I can think of that follows his own path, bucking the musical trends, is Beck. If you haven’t heard this band and like the idea of hearing something truly original that is witty, funny, musically stimulating and has ‘70s pop rock influence in a modern package, you need to taste a piece of this Cake.