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Album review: Cake's 'Showroom of Compassion'

January 10, 2011 |  6:16 pm

Cake_showroom_240_ Only Cake’s John McCrea could coax a song with the fuddy-duddy title “Federal Funding” into such witty existence. The opening track to their sixth studio album starts with some crud-covered guitar and the deadpan lyric, “You’ll receive the federal funding; you can add another wing.” It’s a cocky strut made for those thankless academics lobbying for grant money. University proles, congrats! Cake has elevated your career to the same status as the swaggering pimp in gangsta rap.

Its first album since 2004, “Showroom of Compassion” finds the Northern Californian outfit in toned condition, turning out polished compositions that could fit in with its classic catalog (strong with hits like “Short Skirt Long Jacket”) but updated with a few new twists. Also, the same notion of edginess that blessed and cursed other ‘90s bands like Soul Coughing (ahem: the semi-spoken vocals thing) has been nicely mellowed out. As ever before, Cake romps with whatever genre — pickled ska, roughshod country, even a rare snippet of Chopin-like classical piano — in its indie folk mash.

Recorded in the band’s own solar-powered studio in Sacramento over a period of some two years, each song on “Showroom of Compassion” sounds nurtured into its ideal state. The positive-minded “What’s Now Is Now,” with its chirping birds, strings and synth burbles, has almost a utopian, ‘70s AM rock glisten to it. Could a song developed off the city’s energy grid, literally soaked in sunshine, sound any other way?

“Showroom of Compassion”
Upbeat Records
Three stars (Out of four)