If you don’t like Cake, you still won’t after “Showroom Of Compassion.” There’s nothing here that even tries to convince you otherwise. If you love Cake, though, this is the equivalent of John McCrea delivering a singing “thank you” and then giving you a hug. This album is magic (prolonged).
By “fan’s album,” I mean this: Everything you loved about old-school Cake is back, and everything you hated about the great-but-different “Comfort Eagle” and the not-great-at-all “Pressure Chief” is gone. This sounds like “Fashion Nugget” plus “Prolonging the Magic,” and I thought those days were dead and gone.
“Long Time” sounds like a response to “Never There” musically. It starts with McCrea’s solo voice and an unusual noise in the background (Eh? Eh? Wink wink nudge nudge), and drops into the syncopated, spaced-out, white-boy groove that totally evaporated around the year 2000. The song comes complete with a distant, forlorn synth and syncopated guitar dancing on top of a distinctly Cake bass line. It made me pine for the glory days, and then remember that this song came out two weeks ago. Heck, yes.
“What’s Now is Now” dabbles in the fractured disco optimism that made “Fashion Nugget” so glorious. The chamber orchestra (harpsichord!) of “Italian Guy” recalls genre experiments like “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” as well as calling up “Italian Leather Sofa” in the vocal rhythms (it must be intentional). “Teenage Pregnancy” is an instrumental that sounds like “Frank Sinatra” and “Arco Arena” in a blender, complete with “hey” and “yaaaaa!” thrown in. The same goes for “Mustache Man (Wasted),” which for all intents and purposes is “Comfort Eagle” part two in music and lyric.
The lyrics here are even more of a love letter to fans. The title refers to the fact that Cake’s usually sardonic lyrics have softened, showing better sides of people and narrators than, say, “Rock and Roll Lifestyle.” Furthermore, the lyrics are responses, updates, and check-ins on subject and characters from past Cake songs. The narrator in “Italian Guy” seems to be watching the man whose wife was described in “Italian Leather Sofa.” “Mustache Man” seems to be sung from the perspective of a person no longer taken in by the televangelist who held so much sway in “Comfort Eagle.” Cars, travel and phones are mentioned liberally. I won’t ruin “Got to Move” for you, but think about the character the narrator is describing in the context of previous awesome Cake songs.
“Sick of You” seems to be sung from the opposite perspective of all Cake’s previous lovelorn narrators, showing that it’s apathy toward everything that causes the new narrator to run from the narrator in “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” But “Long Time” shows a possible future of “Never There”: “It’s been a long time since you gave me butterflies / It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the burning in your eyes … but I don’t mind, when I’ve got you next to me,” McCrea intones, extolling the virtues of (gasp!) monogamy.
“Showroom of Compassion” is a brilliant album that ranks with Cake’s best. How could it not? It takes all of the best things Cake has ever done and jams them on one album. It’s a reward, both lyrically and musically, for liking Cake as long as you have. And that, my friends, is how you stay relevant and beloved by fans.
Buy this now. Now, I say. —Stephen Carradini