ans Rest Easy: Cake’s trademark sound—a crisply compartmentalized hodgepodge of glossy bass, jittery guitar, lean drumming, along with occasional string, brass and glockenspiel flourishes bolstered by PC-produced buzzes and whirrs—remains intact. And, as always, over top of this Neapolitan sundae of genre-alienated sounds you’ll hear Jon McCrea pouring his characteristically deadpan sarcastic social commentary on modern banes such as cell phones, carbon monoxide, gluttony, SUVs, conspicuous consumption, unthinking patriotism, excessive pet preening … you know the drill.
Skeptics Take Note: Cake is at the top of their game. While their former albums suffered from singleitis, that dreadful disease whereby a band can perform admirably on one track and abysmally on the subsequent ten, Pressure Chief is remarkably consistent. Though there are a few under-baked efforts here (“End of the Movie” and “She’ll Hand the Baskets”), none of these eleven tracks out-and-out bombs. What’s more, McCrea produces something new from his bag of tricks—actual singing! Okay, so it’s not quite emo, but on opener “Wheels” McCrae catches the listener off guard with his passionately crooned “Why you say you are not in love with me?” And it’s not just despair that McCrae expresses. On “Carbon Monoxide” he sounds downright mad. There’s no ambiguity in McCrae’s wailing “Where’s the air?” and “Car after bus after car after truck / After this my lungs will be so fucked up”. Any idea what the Sony execs have been slipping into McCrea’s granola? The guy hasn’t emoted this much since Mr. Show got cancelled.
Standouts Include: “No Phone”, for starters. Even for a single it’s catchy, what with the Dr. Dre (Chronic-era) synth, cheesy tension and overdubbed vocal outro. Tracks like “No Phone” prove that if McCrea and company ever stuck a fork in Cake, they’d likely find a series of lucrative co-writing/production gigs awaiting them. “Dime” also shines, tempering the glitzy instrumental staccato with vague, background barroom shouts and “The Guitar Man”, opening with Dave Friedman-like high-tech blips and bleeps, morphs into a warm, sentimental ode to that most enigmatic of world travelers—the guitar man. McCrea spits his best lyrics while critiquing the “virtues” of credit card wealth on somber “Waiting”. “You can soak your bread in gravy,” he sings. “You can soak your bread in soup / But the car that you are driving / Doesn’t really belong to you”.
What You Get: A pretty blistering take on modernity. While traditional rock fans may have a difficult time swallowing Cake’s meticulously produced, pop-obsessed, genre-bending concoction, fans of Moby, Beck and The Flaming Lips might make for easy converts. In their politics (if not their label status) Cake is unflinchingly indie, and their indiscriminate method of composition yields some intriguing results. While they lack the “artiness” of the aforementioned trio (a fact welcomed in some quarters) there’s no denying the charm of their formula.
Reviewed by: R. S. Ross
Reviewed on: 2004-10-05