Retrospective on the band Cake
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
Their cover of ‘I Will Survive’ was regarded as an insult to the original due to Cake’s vocalist John McCrea’s deadpan and sarcastic tone of voice.
There are two songs by California band Cake that everyone should—and probably does—know. “The Distance” off 1996 album Fashion Nugget and “Short Skirt / Long Jacket” off 2003 album Comfort Eagle. However, there’re some other successful hits that you may have heard including but not limited to “Sheep Go to Heaven,” “Never There,” and covers the likes of “I Will Survive” and “War Pigs.” Their cover of “I Will Survive” was regarded as an insult to the original due to Cake’s vocalist John McCrea’s deadpan and sarcastic tone of voice.
Yet, despite some huge MTV-level hits and popularity in the 90s and early 2000s, Cake’s uniquely ironic sound didn’t guarantee them fame forever. So, pretending we’re back in Cake’s golden age, here’s a review of their other songs.
“The Distance” is off of 1996 album Fashion Nugget which has similar bops and bangers all throughout. The album comes together very well with similar sound and tone. It doesn’t feel too bizarre either, with the same instrumentation being used throughout the 14-track album. Due to how well the songs merge into each other, the album can be labelled easy listening. A con to the same point is that many of the songs sound so similar that it’s hard to pull favourites. The first song besides “The Distance” and “I Will Survive” that really has a different listening experience is “Nugget,” featuring aggressive lyrics and compressed electric guitar. Call and response yells and hard panned horns make this song feel a little out of nowhere, and this is exactly what the album needed to ground listeners back into the album before it ended. To hit the nail on the head, the chorus goes: “Shut the fuck up, no / Shut the fuck up (shut the fuck) / Right, now / Learn to buck up (shut the fuck).”
Comfort Eagle is a fantastic listen and my favourite Cake album. Starting with “Opera Singer” the album already has a much different feel. It definitely has more electronic-sounding drums, but the mix has live instruments so far forward that it doesn’t take away from the staple Cake in-your-face concert vibe. Harmonies are much more prevalent in this album and they hit right from the start.
Onto “Meanwhile, Rick James” you hear the combination of over-compressed guitars and light, airy analog synths once again, but with enough far panning that every instrument has its own space to be the star of the show. It’s difficult to do that with just how much sound there is, but Cake pulls it off. A reason for this is because every few seconds the instrument at the front of the mix gets changed, whether it’s a hard left guitar during the chorus, strings taking over in the second half of the chorus, or keys in the verse—it’s always different. This playful take on sound and form occurs differently throughout the album, offering an exciting listening experience.
“Commissioning a Symphony in C” deserves a shoutout simply because of how great the song is. The deadpan vocals ease up to evoke a little more emotion this time around. The widely spread guitar melodies, backing riffs, crispy snare, and the synth matching the vocal riff allows the song comes together as one of the more emotional ones.
“Comfort Eagle” is a heavier song on the album with just as heavy lyrics. It’s a reflection on consumerism, specifically on the music industry taking musicians and turning them into nothing more than a brand—a product—with references to public figures denouncing politics altogether with lyrics like “the wacky morning DJ says democracy’s a joke.”
“World of Two,” the last song on Comfort Eagle, provides a beautiful ending and surprising relief after all the big sound and heavy instrumentation the rest of the album boasts. To be frank, Cake’s sound is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy songs like “The Distance” and “Short Skirt / Long Jacket” as anthems, there’s plenty more where those came from.