Cake -- Comfort Eagle (Columbia 2001)
by Randy Krbechek
The boys from Sacramento are back. With their fourth album (and follow-up to such oddities as "Sheep Go To Heaven" and the remake of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"), Cake puts its best foot forward, with a fuller, more guitar-oriented sound. To me, it's the best since the stripped-down pop absurdity of their debut, Motorcade of Generosity (1995).
Cake has always bent the rules of pop, using odd instrumentation to create quirky but compelling songs. On their earlier work, songs like "I Bombed Korea" rose to the level of poetry, sometimes as gently twisted haiku.
Comfort Eagle still draws from the David Bryne school of songwriting, yet delves into white boy rap - the guitars are bigger and more accessible, but the words are moving backward. See "Long Line of Cars" for reinforcement. And while McCrea may continue to lament "big, wide-load American culture," he is now releasing songs like the instrumental "Arco Arena." Comments McCrea, "I used to have almost a sickness about big dumb rock. Now I'm realizing that it's a force that can be used for good or evil."
Cake consists of original members John McCrea on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, and Vincent DiFiore on trumpets and keyboards. Since the split of the band (which resulted in the splinter group, Deathray), the band has been rounded out by Xan McCurdy on electric guitar and Gabriel Nelson on bass. The album was recorded with Todd Roper on drums. Roper left after the album was completed, and was replaced by Pete McNeal.
McCrea wants to keep people a little off balance. "It's like people use music as this tribal identifier, and I think that just drains the actual listening enjoyment out of the music. There are all these tiny stylistic signals that say, 'This is or isn't our tribe.' Cake would prefer to circumvent and avoid these strict demarcations."
The eleven songs clock in at 37 minutes, which means that there is no extra weight on Comfort Eagle. I respect Cake for its sense of Central Valley absurdity, as opposed to the Valley darkness reflected on such groups as Grandaddy. Tracks like "Meanwhile, Rick James . . ." (written by McCrea while he was in high school) and "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" have a bouncy, rock feel.
While Cake has moved past some of the stark dynamic of its earlier records, McCrea acknowledges, "We're still a little wrong with Party Town U.S.A. We don't know how to 'produce' an album that well."
Comfort Eagle avoids being pigeon-holed. It's just good, idiosyncratic rock. Adds McCurdy, "Take it on the stairmaster. It's good motivational music."
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-- Randy Krbechek