By David Colburn
Vibraslap enthusiasts rejoice! Showroom of Compassion, Cake’s first full-length studio release since 2004’s Pressure Chief, displays the quirky percussion device in healthy abundance. Many of the musical characteristics that define Cake’s well-established signature style are present to an extent: John McCrea’s unique vocal style, the impressively homogeneous combination of considerably diverse musical genres, the tightly-arranged rhythms, and the certain aesthetic of 1990s pop culture all permeate the album’s core in ways one would generally expect. Even in Cake’s devotion to recapturing past aural achievements, a certain qualitative difference quickly emerges within the first minutes of the listening experience.
“You’ll receive the federal funding, you can add another wing.” *And repeat*.
“Federal Funding” begins Showroom of Compassion without a sense of excitement or vibrancy, but rather a distinct atmosphere of mid-tempo lethargy. Some of Cake’s greatest material has featured a similar lyrical repetition, but there’s a difference in the lyricism itself: whereas tracks such as “The Distance” feature incredibly intriguing and memorable writing, “Federal Funding” is only slightly more interesting than the majority of mainstream pop and rock music from a lyrical standpoint. “Long Time” serves as a minor improvement in both musical and lyrical regards, but the listener may still pine for something that approaches the potential firmly documented in Cake’s previous discography.
“Got to Move” places its bid as the album’s first highlight, featuring one of the most successful attempts to emulate Cake’s greatest qualities. Through the slight stumbling and vagueness, there’s a strong vocal flow that compliments the melody in a manner that’s ultimately enjoyable. From the aforementioned track’s finale, “What’s Now is Now” and “Mustache Man (Wasted)” seem to nonchalantly pass by with little to note – though the latter example does bear a striking sonic resemblance to Comfort Eagle’s “Love You Madly”.
“Teenage Pregnancy”, a relatively delicate instrumental work, serves as one of the strongest and musically diverse tracks overall. In an unfortunate contrast, the album’s single “Sick of You” features elements – such as a lack of musical or lyrical inspiration displayed through an almost automatic simplicity – that become more and more apparent upon each listen.
“Easy to Crash” acts as both an improvement and as one of the most interesting overall tracks of the album. While far from essential or spectacular, the song features slight deviations from the established tone of the album and is perhaps the most memorable listening experience to be derived. “Bound Away” is best described as an “adequate Cake composition in a slight vintage country vein”, contributing to the album’s broad tendency to aimlessly cycle without the requirement of a second thought. “The Winter” similarly passes by with little worth mentioning – though the example does bear a striking sonic resemblance to Comfort Eagle’s “World of Two”—and the album concludes on a negative note with “Italian Guy”. Despite a relatively interesting musical composition, the track ultimately suffers from inconsolably poor lyricism: one may literally groan by the delivery of “he’s making a point, and it’s very important, indeed”.
Showroom of Compassion is a Cake album by its design, but there’s little of particular interest to those who are not established Cake fanatics. Upon completing the first complete listening experience, there was a distinct impression: the album is decent by all means, but there’s little deviation or evolution from Cake’s signature style. Upon engaging in multiple subsequent listening experiences, the impression was replaced with a somber revelation: the album is adequate by general comparison, but there’s little material that approaches the past glory of Cake’s signature style. While the instrumentation itself is still well-arranged for the most part, no particular track ascends to memorable qualities of “Frank Sinatra”, “Never There” or “Comfort Eagle”. The quirky creativity and intelligence of earlier releases have been substituted by a disappointing air of uninvolved generality that couldn’t be remedied by all of the vibraslaps in the band’s back catalogue.
Check out the video for their first single off the album, Sick of You, below: