Anyone I’ve ever talked to at length is probably sick of this story, but this is the one place it’s actually germane, so I’m gonna tell it once more.
Flash back to the summer of 2001: Did anyone ever see that episode of Pete and Pete where Little Pete hears a song playing by some garage band (literally) and it becomes His Song? That is this story in a nutshell. Before that, I didn’t mind music, but at age 11, I wasn’t especially sophisticated by any stretch of the imagination.
I had a Sony boombox type thing, whose CD player I used exclusively to play my copy of the London Symphony Orchestra doing the score to Star Wars. (It seemed reasonable at the time, but to see that typed out is a little… sad.)
The boombox also had a radio, and it was early that summer that I heard Cake’s ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket’, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I even called the radio station on my home-phone (no cell phone back then!) to request it, and they played it! After that, you couldn’t stop me. Napster was all the rage, and I had an appetite. It started by tracking down 80s songs I’d heard in commercials, old TV themes I liked, but eventually that wasn’t enough.
Comfort Eagle was the first album I ever loved. Cake was my favorite band for at least the next five years, their back-catalog forming the initial foundation of my natal musical taste.
That was a little less than a decade ago, and in that time music has come to be a singular force in my life. Cake got me into music, and so I always approach their work with a bit of reverence.
Eventually, I should probably get to Showroom of Compassion, whose ‘Federal Funding’ we previewed here a long time ago. What we didn’t hear in that clip was the spirited yelp at 3:03 that, even that early into the album, assures you Cake is back.
So far my favorite track is ‘Long Time‘, because I think it nails the hybridization of Cake with a bit more modern flavor. It really felt like they tried to push the envelope beyond what’s comfortable for the group, and I liked what they came up with.
Initially, I was worried that I wasn’t going to like a lot of the material on here. There are some slower tracks, with the role of token plodding ballad in this case a tie between ‘Got to Move’ and ‘Bound Away’. The former of which is OK in the grander scheme of the album, whereas the latter is the one track I really do kindof hate (it joins ranks with ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’ as well as ‘She’ll Hang the Baskets’ as the one song I can never come around on…).
Showroom really hits its stride at tracks 4-7. ‘What’s Now Is Now’, aside from straightening out the lyrical confusion from ‘Comfort Eagle’s “Now today is tomorrow, and tomorrow- today!, has a really fantastic little backing riff and interesting nontraditional sounds to it. Next is ‘Mustache Man (Wasted)’ which has solid Fashion Nugget-vintage hook, and sets us up for the crowning moment of the entire album; ‘Teenage Pregnancy‘, which is fantastic not just for the clever label of the instrumental piece, but also because it’s musically the most interesting thing happening on the record.
On its own, it works less well, but in context it is a masterstroke. At its close, you are dropped off at the radio single, ‘Sick of You’, which is fun and could almost be called upbeat, but for the content.
Which gets at the principle complaint I’ve heard about the record: that it’s a bit of a downer. The criticism is fair, but the album doesn’t wallow to the extent that it stops you from listening to it.
A pleasant surprise towards the end, ‘Italian Guy’ is the best closer the band has had since their debut on Motorcade.
Ultimately, this isn’t an ‘instant classic’ type thing, but instead you’ll find Showroom of Compassion just interesting to listen to one more time- and that’ll keep happening for weeks afterward. It would be easy to like this album simply because it’s the first new Cake LP in 7 years, but the material really stands on its own.
It’d be nice to see these guys have a little more fun in the future, but that’s a personal appeal, and not a comment on the quality of the record.