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“Examining a Possible Excessive Virility Element as an Explanation of CAKE’s Intermediate Popularity as a Band”

Cake-berg, right ahead! Actually, with how weird my life is, I expected them to actually indeed be putting a new album out right as I get the inclination to write this (this has happened with me with both E.L.O. and The Black Angels in the last 18 months or so). Well, they h’ain’t, but maybe it’s like Sir Michael Rocks said: culture isn’t really changing any more. Guys’ wardrobes no longer evolve, slang has ceased to continue to adapt (maybe having something to do with people’s tendencies to be in their own worlds on their phones, rather than talking to each other, as well as all the social programs pervading New York around the democratic mayoral race of 2014).
Or maybe they just haven’t put an album out since 2011’s Showroom of Compassion and there ain’t no reason for it, although to be honest I was just thinking about the whole Spotify thing, and I was analyzing this whole thing a little bit. As many readers of this blog will know, I am in sporadic contact with Mike Pace of Oxford Collapse and the Child Actors and in one of our prestigious e-mail interviews, he made the comment that “Clearly file sharing has killed music commerce” (file sharing is how people got music for free on the Internet before Spotify and Youtube came around). Well, there’s lots of different directions I could go with this and by the end you’d end up straining your eyes looking at your computer screen so long… suffice it to say it’s at least ARGUABLE that John McCrea and company are feeling a decreased incentive for even doing this stuff anymore. He**, maybe they moved on to something else and didn’t even tell us. Maynard James Keenan, I know, a fellow Californian of McCrea’s, owns a commercial vineyard. Up to now I have not heard of any side projects of McCrea’s, the only musical branching-off of his from Cake I can think of is his background vocal performance on “Fred Jones Part 2” on Ben Folds Live. In fact, regarding this whole disenchanted disposition before the commerciality of his profession thing, I’m reminded of that funk/pop plaint that is “You Turn the Screws,” an indictment of record industry greed. Ugh, Christ, just look at the first song on their last album: “Federal Funding.” I think I know where this is going from here [1].
Ok, so getting to the primary point of this post: I was just thinking about it, and really, it’s pretty rare that I listen to CAKE and don’t, while albeit being sort of amazed, also get a bit grossed out by just the absolute desire wound up in this guy. First of all, there’s that song “When You Sleep”: “When you sleep / Where do your fingers go”, which is about wanting to watch a girl sleep. Wow, nothing creepy about that!
Now, lemme backtrack here. Nobody would confuse CAKE with a band with any hipster appeal. This being said, I did see them lauded, whole album Comfort Eagle in particular (within a lukewarm review of Pressure Chief which happens to be for what it’s worth a pretty listenable cluster of radio-ready funk/rock), on the now defunct tastemaking blast furnace which was cokemachineglow.com, for which, yes, Grizzly Bear – Shields wasn’t even good enough (they are indeed the only journal I observed as bashing said album contemporarily to its release). “The Distance” I believe was USED in the cartoon sit-com Daria, based on a Beavis & Butthead character, and is one of the many great white raps of the ‘90s by a singer who also sings, a la “Pepper” by the Butthole Surfers. In other words, it’s hardly the obscure, niche find (the extent to which my beloved Sebadoh is either anymore arguably waning). They are the ultimate product of the horny, Loveline-laden [2] ‘90s, in fact: they’re way to weird to, in any other economic epoch, even be remotely commercially successful, and yet, for the fame they achieved with “The Distance” as well as songs like “Shadow Stabbing” [3] and “Hem of Your Garment” [4] making it on to movie soundtracks, considering their level of fame, they’re arguably of a popularity level which is surprisingly intermediate. I argue that this mitigating factor here is an excessive virility, the type of thing which might have been a LITTLE more fashionable in the ‘90s, being those though a time of extreme musical competitiveness (the late-‘90s being more competitive than a lot of faux-historians may realize). You’ve got the breasts bouncing on “Italian Leather Sofa,” and then that “When You Sleep” song is on their next album, the patchily cosmic if again sodden-hearted Prolonging the Magic.
Then I’d never heard their first album Motorcade of Generosity [5], but lots of the songs are short so the first one I listened to “Up So Close” is all like “Up so close / I never get to see your [something]”. Uh… oh… k. Fu** it: here’s my garishly amateurish T25.
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Addenda: Dolby’s Top 25 CAKE Songs:
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25 “Arco Arena” (Comfort Eagle)
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Actually I think CAKE has a decent amount of instrumentals, but this is the only one I put on the list: nice and funky, and replete with the requisite John McCrea “yah” sounds (by far the best part).
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24 “End of the Movie” (Pressure Chief)
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To sum up life in one single bound — in one verse/chorus juxtaposition, on one postmodern canvas, in one lyrical stanza and chorus — This is the highest goal of all art. Like The New Pornographers and Ando Hiroshige, respectively, CAKE master that exact thing lyrically on this cut. It features a nice, spare arrangement, appropriately.
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23 “You Turn the Screws” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Here’s the obligatory anti-record label crusade, which makes it all the sadder when you see that to this day the band is consistently releasing the worst songs on their albums as their singles, and allowing the vocals to be cutesy-liquified and gussied up for those single versions.
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22 “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” (Fashion Nugget)
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The allusion is strong here — this is a cover of one diva named Doris Day, and sorry, but I can’t help but think of that Beatles “song,” which is actually just a brief, drug-informed rant, “Dig it,” but where they mention this chick. It’s an ok song, very spare, slightly hypnotic.
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21 “Frank Sinatra” (Fashion Nugget)
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Again: I’m not exactly sure the sociological statement being made here. It’s like, if the “flies and spiders” are the only ones which “get along together,” then it seems like the proper emotion would be anger, and not this stupid faux-humor in tone which seems to be like John McCrea’s dispositional blankie-wankie. But then, whadu I know.
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20 “Meanwhile, Rick James…” (Comfort Eagle)
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Here we have basically a quintessential CAKE song, full of wry humor and as in certain cases the unabashed pop-culture reference rendered for seemingly no reason, so strategically median that it pretty much just goes down like water.
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19 “Sheep Go to Heaven” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Oh, sh**. Here we are. There are so many things to talk about in “Sheep Go to Heaven” (actually I remember this one really cute chick putting the words to this song on her AIM “away message” one time) that it’s astonishing… I’ll ignore the awkward transition from diminutive to joyous and just note that this song has a solid amount of energy to it and makes for a memorable listen — it’s the type of song where you’d hear it, and wonder what else these quirky raggamuffins might be up to.
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18 “When You Sleep” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Pretty nice little rockabilly number here, by and large, in large part for the boisterous “When you sleep!” background vocals and the stylish, lithe use of trumpet sprinkled throughout.
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17 “Carbon Monoxide” (Pressure Chief)
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Humor is always good, especially when it actually works, and this little installment orchestrates it, I guess, with sufficient prowess: “Car after bus / After car after truck / After this / My lungs will be so fu**ed up / Too much carbon monoxide / For me to bear”.
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16 “Alpha Beta Parking Lot” (Prolonging the Magic)
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And now, with “Alpha Beta Parking Lot,” we observe in our stalwart California brethren CAKE a viable missive of what we might call “psychedelic rock,” buoyed very much by the repeatedly imbued image of “Watching the sun go down”.
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15 “Wheels” (Pressure Chief)
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What CAKE fans had to like about this album right away is that it could get FUNKY — this and “No Phone” make for a nice on-the-one one-two punch, to give way to a generally mellow, contemplative and listenable LP as a whole.
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14 “Nugget” (Fashion Nugget)
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There’s a lot to complain about, and to rejoyce about, with this song, but then, that’s true about a lot of things in life. For instance, it’s obviously creative and pretty funky, but pretty harshly handling of whomever it’s handling, and McCrea does sound sort of “white” during certain rap episodes. Still, it’s clear that rap was his true calling in life, especially when you consider how often he when singing pointlessly employs that stupid pause technique.
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13 “Walk on by” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Sort of a sister track to “Guitar,” “Walk on by” follows “You Turn the Screws” which follows “Guitar on the excellent album Prolonging the Magic, continuing the overall theme of heartbreak, which, as we all know per Cupid’s righteous scriptures, translates directly as horniness’s lack.
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12 “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” (Comfort Eagle)
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It’s hard to to this day hear this song or think about it and truly divorce it from the music video, which featured a bunch of candid individuals listening to the song (I remember it was the first time I’d ever heard that “good” connotation of “clean” to refer to music, or fashion, or whatever).
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11 “Mexico” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Prolonging the Magic is by far favorite CAKE album, sort of just a nice enigmatic summer rocker I can put in and thereupon be treated to some zesty trumpet and slide guitar, along with all the pop/rock standards. “Mexico” is the precocious, crooning track-two waltz.
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10 “Federal Funding” [album version] (Showroom of Compassion)
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First song on the band’s new album here (just like Cheap Trick says), and it’s good, but boy is the rest of this album dirt! I can’t believe they didn’t release this cut as the single off it… it’s like they’re trying to go all goofy like Marcy Playground did with that despicable “Star Baby” sh**.
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9 “No Phone” (Pressure Chief)
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Ah, this is what CAKE knows best… bit**ing. Bit**ing is as bit**ing sings, and here McCrea adheres beautifully to the black-invented blues scales to initiate his white-boy complaint about… receiving phone calls. I give it two thumbs up. Just kidding… yeah this is another good funky number on the solid effort Pressure Chief.
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8 “Guitar” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Whoo… now this is a chord progression! Look at CAKE lay down the law! “Guitar” is wedged smack in the middle of the extremely fun album which is Prolonging the Magic, and the best part of it is… his bit** didn’t even break up with him, for once! Nope, not on this song! Talk to the hand!
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7 “I Will Survive” (Fashion Nugget)
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Wow… in this song he’s complaining too… an Aretha Franklin cover… my favorite part is when he modifies the vocals to “I should have changed my fu**ing lock”. By the way, Aretha Franklin is the only musician to physically appear in both Blues Brothers movies. Also by the way, Blues Brothers 2000 is possibly the most underrated film of all time.
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6 “Comfort Eagle” (Comfort Eagle)
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So here I guess his problem is that America is run by a capitalistic economy and the companies in charge are attempting to make people comfortable, around the iconic semblance of the “eagle” symbology, our national bird meant to represent bravery and freedom. Hmm, yeah, I can see why he’s so pi**ed off. Yeah, ok John McCrea. Whatever. In all seriousness, it’s definitely a pretty cool song, full of a lot of intriguing imagery and THIS TIME, bona fide, righteous anger.
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5 “Never There” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Make it funky! Do-do-do-do-do-make it funky! Oh, sorry, I was singing some James Brown to myself there. And with good reason: he’s a clear influence upon CAKE’s m.o. here for what’s indeed one of their better singles. Also, interestingly enough, my one friend said this song reminded him of Umphrey’s.
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4 “Shadow Stabbing” (Comfort Eagle)
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As we all know, movie soundtracks are pretty stupid (as are movies themselves), but there’s just something about John McCrea’s biting baritone which just sends Orange County into a state of transcendence, along of course with Pete Yorn’s great paean “Lose You”… time to hit the valium… no, that was the SPEED!
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3 “Cool Blue Reason” (Prolonging the Magic)
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Here, on the penultimate track on Prolonging the Magic, we move stylishly and becomingly from funk back to rockabilly, but a couple key surprises crash the party on this one: a trippy balancing trick in the vocals production, and an infectious, incessant moog segment, hinted at leading into the first chorus and then taken to full tilt in the song’s second half.
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2 “Satan is My Motor” (Prolonging the Magic)
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“Satan is My Motor” proudly kicks off a great album with commendable zeal and licentious energy — plus the lyrics are hilarious (“Satan is the only one who seems to understand”). Well, provided that you’re not some bible-thumping prick, which, seeing as I’m from South Bend, Indiana, I better add as a modifier there.
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1 “The Distance” (Fashion Nugget)
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Wow… who could explain this song? Ya wanna know what’s funny — I think I remember hearing this song in an episode of Daria, and then on the exact same album, there’s a song called “Daria.” That’s all. Just a little coincidence in life, nothing to compete with the strange, misanthropic storyline and arena-rock tenacity of this cut, but maybe just a reminder that we’re often all more relatable to each other than we might think, or than we might hope, for that matter, when it comes to things like racing around an empty track after the competition is over.
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[1] To McCrea’s credit, he probably does have a point: it’s well known that Canada makes better practice of monetarily supporting the arts and rewarding them with awards ceremonies and things like that.
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[2] “Loveline” was a quite entertaining talk show on MTV wherein callers would phone hosts Adam Corolla, some doctor dude and some cute, rotating chick, about their problems with their sex lives. I remember this one chick was all funny one time talking about her boyfriend: “He stuck his finger up my butt,” but she uttered it in this funny, low and laconic tone, in this sort of like goth-valley-girl accent. Something about the drawn-out format of late-night television was perfectly tailored to the “Loveline”’s wry personality.
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[3] The Waterboy.
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[4] Orange County.
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[5] The gold di** award by far goes to this one dipsh** who was trying to review Motorcade of Generosity and kept trying to assert that “motorcade” were not actually a word in the English language.

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