Ever since 1997?s The Distance vaulted Cake to stardom, the Sacramento, California-based band has been an easy target for rock critics, who routinely dismiss its ironic lyrics and individual sound as unworthy of their attention. These same pundits have no problem lauding Beck?s brand of brilliant nonsense, but that?s a story for another day. Despite not carrying the rock journalist vote, the band has endured over the years, scoring a steady stream of radio hits and building a strong core following. Pressure Chief, Cake?s excellently titled fifth record and first in three years, keeps the group?s distinct, quirky rock sound intact, but also brings a more solemn, serious feel to many of the album?s tracks.
The trademark Cake sound takes little time to crystallize on Pressure Chief, as the opening song ?Wheels? carries pretty much all of the band?s key elements: interlocking trumpet and guitar riffs, funk bass lines, and frontman John McCrea?s often silly speak-singing. Still, the album has a mellower feel than past Cake efforts, especially 2001?s bouncy Comfort Eagle. Songs like ?Wheels? and ?Take It All Away? are some of the more personal breakup songs in the Cake catalog, though McCrea does lighten the mood with comical lines like ?And the muscular cyborg German dudes/Dance with sexy French-Canadians,? and ?Take your economy car and your suitcase/Take your psycho little dogs.? The overall feel of the record is also a little more downtempo, with songs like ?Waiting? and ?She?ll Hang the Baskets? dealing with transition, loss, and other serious rock themes.
This is not to suggest that Pressure Chief is at all a gloomy listen, since Cake?s musical cleverness keeps the album from bogging down. Songs like the leadoff single ?No Phone,? ?Dime,? and a reading of Bread?s ?Guitar Man? feature well-deployed Flaming Lips-style electronic effects and the whole record has a New-Wave sound that suits the band well. As the album rolls into the home stretch, Cake seeks out a more traditional feel, adding some country textures and plaintive McCrea vocals that lend the record some depth.
A glance at Cake?s website (www.cakemusic.com) makes it clear that the band is joining in the nation?s recent political craze, with links and poll questions with a deadpan delivery that belies their pointedness. Cake takes the same approach with the album?s most obviously political track, ?Carbon Monoxide.? The song?s breezy, punky delivery and catchy ?Where?s the air?? refrains mask an otherwise straightforward rant against traffic overcrowding and pollution. Elsewhere, ?Palm of Your Hand? seems to be reaching out to fans who may not be quite as cynical about the state of affairs as the members of the band. Still, Cake never said it wanted to be Rage Against the Machine, and listeners certainly aren?t going to mind or perhaps even notice McCrea?s political commentary here.
It?s not hard to predict what?s going to happen with Pressure Chief ? Cake fans are going to buy it and love it, and those who haven?t taken an interest in the group in the past will continue their indifference. Unlike the band?s other full-lengths, though, this one is unlikely to yield a hit single ? ?No Phone? isn?t hooky enough to make it on radio, and nothing else on the album is particularly iTunes-friendly. Pressure Chief won?t be an earth-shaking release, nor was it probably intended to be, but it?s a solid rock album and one you?ll enjoy listening to for quite some time.