Being Cake’s first album in over seven years, Showroom of Compassion has left fans anticipating what their eventual return to music would sound like. During pre-release press, singer John McCrea said the album would be “very different.” This is true only to a degree; it might be the bands most accessible album to date, but it’s very much a Cake album through and through.
The album lives up to its title; it’s a subdued laid back affair. It’s true that ultimately, Cake doesn’t venture too far from their formula on this LP. And for anyone that actually waited seven years to get new material, it might seem like a re-tread. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a really enjoyable collection of songs, with very eclectic sounds. “Long Time” sounds like it could have been a Beatles outtake with its rolling guitars and horns. It’s a slow burner that will get you on your feet. “Got to Move” is a ballad with 60’s influenced guitars. Cake even takes their stab at a country song on “Bound Away,” and it works extremely well. “Easy to Crash” fuses swirling synths (think Broken Bells) with crashing guitars. The album’s stand-out track, “Italian Guy,” uses strings as McCrea weaves a tale about some random Italian guy in a pinstriped suit. And yet, with all the diversity that is offered here, nothing sticks out as being out of place or disjointed. Every song has a mellow vibe that might bore some, but the band’s ability to bring in such diverse sounds, yet make it all cohesive is impressive.
Cake has always been sort of an acquired taste; critics, lukewarm to their albums; music circles, indifferent. But regardless of your feelings towards them, there is no denying that they have unique sound that is distinct to them. They are a band that fully utilizes every member and all the instruments really stand out. Because of this, they’ve always been a fun and rewarding band to listen to as you can pick apart all the instrumentation in the recordings. A part of the reason their music comes together so well is the masterfully done production. It really allows the music to breathe, and for a band like Cake that relies so much on the individual parts standing out – this really is essential.
The only criticism to be had of this album is that it doesn’t take enough risks outside of their usual sound. While it’s true that the album is very diverse in the sounds they pick from, ultimately these sounds go through Cake’s filter/formula. It would have been nice to have seen some of the new sounds dictate the band, instead of vice versa. The other side to this is that the band has delivered another tight album without any major missteps. It might not have been worth the seven year wait, but it’s a really enjoyable album nonetheless. Sure it can’t ever be considered a great album, but there is something admirable about a band that consistently puts out good material.