Cake's taste remains unchanged

by Carl Burnett | 7/27/01 5:00am

"When we first started playing at the bar down the street it was just hipsters scratching their goatees," Cake singer John McCrea said in a 1998 interview.

"We belonged to them, and then we were stolen away by the jocks."

To blame for that phenomenon were such hits as "The Distance," "Never There" and the band's deadpan cover of "I Will Survive." There's no denying that Cake's music has a quality that appeals to many different types of people -- and repels an equal number. They have definitely always been one of those "you-either-like-them-or-you-don't" bands.

Their new album, "Comfort Eagle," doesn't change any of that. Though it's their first album since leaving Capricorn Records and signing with mega-label Columbia, and despite a few changes in the band's lineup, the latest piece of Cake is of the same flavor as the three records that have preceded it.

Die-hard fans who have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up to 1998's "Prolonging the Magic," which spawned the hits "Never There" and "Sheep Go To Heaven," won't be disappointed. However, fans looking for the band to venture into new musical territory will be let down -- until they remember how much fun Cake's music is to listen to. All the trademarks are here: witty, bizarre and dryly delivered lyrics, funky bass lines and kick-ass trumpet licks.

We get all that and more on the album's first single, "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," which has already received significant airplay on commercial radio and MTV, thanks to an inspired and unconventional video consisting of people on the street giving their candid reactions to the song as it plays in the background. Beyond describing his ideal no-B.S. woman, says McCrea, the song is about "the rise and fall of hemlines and how it's related to the stock market." Whatever. It's just a great song.

"Short Skirt/Long Jacket" is the fourth track on "Comfort Eagle," and it kicks off a stellar mid-section of the album which continues with another typically weird Cake song, a second-person tale about an Austrian nobleman called "Commissioning a Symphony in C."

Next up is "Arco Arena," the first instrumental to appear on a Cake album. (Technically, it does contain McCrea's usual muttering: "Huh! All right rock it! Rock it!") It's a great song, and at a minute and a half it's a shame it's not longer.

The next song, the title track, is the most atypically Cake-like song on the album. On a first listen, it sounds out of place.

The song is built on a heavy metal guitar sound, a repeating riff that uses some Middle Eastern-sounding synth sound and vocals that are more rapped, yelled and spoken than sung. But after repeated listens, the song grows on you. The lyrics are fantastic, simultaneously dissing the music industry and hinting at some strange hidden agenda. Sample: "We are building a religion, a limited edition, we are now accepting callers for these beautiful pendant key chains."

Aside from this middle quartet of songs, other highlights include opener "Opera Singer," which is about, well, an opera singer, "Meanwhile, Rick James " which has an undeniable funkiness befitting its subject, and "Love You Madly," which seems destined to be the album's next single, not lastly because of the line "All the dishes in the cupboards rattle when the elephants arrive."

"Comfort Eagle" is a record that manages to be distinctive despite sounding very much the same as all the rest of Cake's music.

That's probably because the band's sound is so innovative, quirkily blending funk, soul, pop and the occasional country twang in a way no one else can imitate.