CAKE- SHOWROOM OF COMPASSION
I quite liked this band out of the box. John McRea's deadpan, "talk-singing" was different, as was the band's unique sound of guitars, drums, trumpets. But I found myself taking to their strange arrangements of covers of songs by Barry White, Black Sabbath, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash, more than their original material. So I stopped listening. Actually, I can't remember the last time I heard a Cake release.
"Showroom Of Compassion" is the band's first album since 2004's "Pressure Chief." They had me at hello with the slick opener, "Federal Funding," something that would not sound out of place on Pink Floyd's "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn." The almost, straight-forward pop of "Mustache Man (Wasted)" and "Sick Of You" are driven by two of the catchiest guitar riffs heard this year. (Yeah, I know the date.) "The Winter" is a ballad, replete with sleigh bells and the aformentioned trumpets, and a familiar melody that sounds like something from 70s, AM radio, maybe Albert Hammond or Terry Jacks. (I love it!)
But again, the showstopper is the sole cover on the record. This time, the boys take on Frank Sinatra again, with a song from the "The Chairman's" 1969, ill-fated, Bob Gaudio produced concept album, "Watertown." If you're unfamiliar with "Watertown," here's what Stephen Thomas Erlewine has to say about it over at All Music:
Watertown is Frank Sinatra's most ambitious concept album, as well as his most difficult record. Not only does it tell a full-fledged story, it is his most explicit attempt at rock-oriented pop. Since the main composer of Watertown is Bob Gaudio, the author of the Four Seasons' hits "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Walk Like a Man," and "Big Girls Don't Cry," that doesn't come as a surprise. With Jake Holmes, Gaudio created a song cycle concerning a middle-aged, small-town man whose wife had left him with the kids. Constructed as a series of brief lyrical snapshots that read like letters or soliloquies, the culminating effect of the songs is an atmosphere of loneliness, but it is a loneliness without much hope or romance -- it is the sound of a broken man. Producer Charles Calello arranged musical backdrops that conveyed the despair of the lyrics. Weaving together prominent electric guitars, keyboards, drum kits, and light strings, Calello uses pop/rock instrumentations and production techniques, but that doesn't prevent Sinatra from warming to the material. In fact, he turns in a wonderful performance, drawing out every emotion from the lyrics, giving the album's character depth.
Cake delivers big with "What's Now Is Now." It's not as ambitious as Frank's, but it's worth noting that the band didn't hand in a piss take. "Showroom Of Compassion" is worth your time. If you've never heard a note by Cake, this is a great place to start. Just go in with an open mind.
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