Cake gives fans a slice
of new music on 'Eagle'
*** (out of five stars)
By Ellen Simonson
Daily Cougar Staff
A lot of people forgot about Cake after
its breakthrough single "Going the Distance" was released on the album
Fashion Nugget in 1996.
The song, with its monotone vocals and
stripped-down beat, was an instant hit -- but Cake was written off by many
as a flash in the pan.
Its next hit, a cover of Donna Summer's
disco classic "I Will Survive" (also from Fashion Nugget), was considered
brilliant by some and awful
Frontman John McCrea's trademark wry vocals
were in perfect counterpoint to the song's ostensible message of hope and
After Fashion Nugget came the disappointing
Prolonging the Magic in 1998.
The album's title was unfortunate, as many
fans saw Magic as just an attempt to extend the fame the band had garnered
with its previous
The admittedly catchy "Never There" did,
however, become Cake's best-selling single to date.
With this year's Comfort Eagle, Cake relies
heavily on the formula that made it famous in the first place. Not that
this is a bad thing -- with the
possible exception of Soul Coughing, nobody
else even comes close to matching Cake's signature weirdness.
But Eagle occasionally suffers from the
same malady that plagued Prolonging the Magic: Sometimes it just sounds
too much like Cake.
Consider two songs, "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"
and "Commissioning a Symphony in C."
Both are built around the standard Cake-song
template: a catchy bass line, McCrea's if-they're-not-patented-they-should-be
vocals and a
healthy dose of rock. It's the lyrics
that make the difference.
"Short Skirt/Long Jacket," the first single
off Comfort Eagle, is lilting and sharp.
Its lyrics offer an honest glimpse into
a real, if odd, person's head: "I want a girl who gets up early/ I want
a girl who stays up late … I want a
girl with uninterrupted prosperity/ who
used a machete to cut through red tape."
First of all, rhyming "early" and "prosperity"
is one of those genius-vs.-idiocy things only Cake could pull off. Setting
that aside, though, this is
a great song, just funky and shrewd enough
to put it above and beyond your average pop offering.
But "Commissioning a Symphony in C" has
lyrics that aim higher but fall shorter. "So you'll be an Austrian nobleman/
symphony in C/ Which defies all earthly
descriptions/ You'll be commissioning a symphony in C."
It's still Cake, so it's still well done
-- but the band's occasional moments of brilliance (think "Italian Leather
Sofa" from Fashion Nugget) are
so good that it's difficult to forgive
"Symphony in C" is dryly funny for the
sake of being dryly funny, which just isn't enough from a band that can
provide very insightful social
commentary when it so desires.
Comfort Eagle is a good album, though it's
not great. Songs like "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and "Long Line of Cars"
are vintage Cake, as good
as anything on Fashion Nugget. ("Long
Line of Cars" is surprisingly introspective and pensive for Cake, as well.)
Even casual fans of the band should own
Comfort Eagle. Cake may have done better, but nearly everyone else does