Cake - Fashion Nugget Music Album Reviews

Cake - Fashion Nugget Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Cake’s second album, a wry, earnest, and oft-misunderstood outlier of ’90s alt-rock.

In the fall of 1996, as Cake’s offbeat single “The Distance” climbed the charts and became the most-requested song on alternative radio stations nationwide, frontman John McCrea compared his band’s ascent to being at the top of a toboggan run. “There’s an out-of-control feeling,” McCrea told a reporter for his local paper, “but there’s also a typical feeling. Because the toboggan ride is a set course that many people have gone down, you feel like you’re part of this grand rock cliche.” Had you never heard the band Cake, or laid eyes upon its white-bread mouthpiece, you might imagine these words coasting on a curl of cigarette smoke, the speaker obscured by dirty hair and sunglasses. But with his goatee and penchant for casual hats—trucker, bucket—this was not McCrea.

Amid the heavy-hitting, guitar-forward noise of the mid-1990s, which McCrea frequently referred to as, “that Viking alternative rock,” Cake were pragmatists, constructing wry but earnest pop music in the machismo era of post-grunge and nu metal. They could find artistry in a strip mall, or rush hour congestion on the I-5. Surely, they were being ironic.

Cake formed in the early ’90s under unremarkable circumstances, in an unremarkable place. McCrea, a few years older than his bandmates, had tried his hand at the L.A. songwriter circuit. But his eccentricities did not package well within prevailing butt-rock. So he returned to his home of Sacramento, and like any shrewd musician, poached players from other groups in town. Guitarist Greg Brown, bassist Victor Damiani, and drummer Todd Roper were regulars on the Sacramento bar-band scene. Trumpeter Vincent DiFiore was playing in a local jazz outfit.

Like all of their subsequent records, Cake self-produced their 1994 debut, Motorcade of Generosity. The album was “lo-fi” by necessity. Its songs were warm and close, and listening to it can feel like trailing notes down a stairwell into some subterranean tavern, where a cantina band plays over clinking pints. For all of its quotations from honky tonk and ranchera music, not to mention the slow-scorching “Jolene,” it was the snide “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle” that primed Cake for college radio takeover. Its lyrics skewered rich rockers who were more interested in merch than the actual music. The song quickly became a fan favorite, perhaps because it allowed listeners to feel superior to their peers. It also cursed McCrea as the detached commentator—or worse, a self-righteous ass. In the opening verses of “Rock ‘n’ roll Lifestyle,” he sings:

Over a decade after the song’s release, McCrea sat down with Terry Gross to discuss its legacy. He explained that he wasn’t interested in roasting posers so much as examining “the mercurially changing fashions of music.” He was mesmerized by the pop culture waste cycle, and how “music just got discarded every few months; consumed, discarded, consumed, discarded.” “Just thinking about all of these leather jackets that were no longer in style, that were just rotting in a landfill,” McCrea continued. “I like the idea of things being out of style, believe it or not, especially from an environmental perspective.” A closer assessment of the band’s catalog—tracks like “No Phone” and “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”—reveal McCrea’s fascination with the obsolete. But Cake has rarely been afforded the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they were just tossed off as unfashionable.

Maybe it’s because they were pointedly out of style. McCrea often referred to their work as “music product,” and was transparent about the band’s calculated approach to songwriting. Even their album covers stank of branding—the simple, high-contrast designs recalled the advertising boom of the ’50s and ’60s. “We are in a service occupation,” McCrea told The San Francisco Examiner, three months after releasing Cake’s second album, Fashion Nugget. “Our job is not glamorous. We supply the soundtrack for your drive to work.” Brown admitted a dirtier secret: “What I would really like to accomplish is making a living—having dental and health insurance would be nice.” Nothing could be more radical in the mid-’90s, when conservative politicians were holding congressional hearings to determine the effects of violent rock lyrics on adolescents. Yet the band’s approach to music-making was economical, not cynical. Cake cut their teeth in local bars, where performers are at best cause for dancing, at worst something to shout over. Implementing different genres was not only the result of eclectic tastes, it was a bid for survival. A wider net yields a more plentiful catch.

Fashion Nugget is like an oversized diner menu. There is something for most people: mariachi, jazz, tango, funk, country—none of which were cool at the time. Nor was stewing disparate genres in the same pot. It was as though Cake could see into the post-genre future, the inevitable outcome of the internet and our heightened access to everything. Among its 14 songs are three covers, the tango standard “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” made famous by Doris Day, Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” and of course, their widely misinterpreted take on Gloria Gaynor’s disco juggernaut “I Will Survive.” After the mild success of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” Cake spent most of the ’90s asserting their sincerity. “I Will Survive” was not a joke, but an honest tribute.

McCrea must have known that his voice, blunt as a rolling pin, was responsible for such misconceptions. His only real “crime” was sounding so ordinary. Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was an anthem of Black female empowerment, later adopted by the gay liberation movement amid the AIDS crisis. Cake’s version, coasting on palm-muted guitar and Damiani’s dexterous bassline, doesn’t so much wither as shrink. When Gross interviewed McCrea in 2005, she hedged: “When you sing it…it’s like a white guy who’s been hurt and he’s taken it.” McCrea admitted that his point of view made the song much angrier (“I should have changed my fucking lock”). In reality, McCrea’s character seemed pathetic—a man who masks his pain with pent-up fury. Even the music video depicts him as a woeful figure of piddling authority: a meter maid exacting revenge on the neighborhood.

McCrea’s drawl was more like a shield that protected the deadpan poet. How bold to kick off a record with these lines: “We know of an ancient radiation/That haunts dismembered constellations.” How perceptive to recognize the pure musicality of a name like “Daria.” On the mid-tempo “Italian Leather Sofa,” McCrea takes aim at a couple above his station: “They laugh, they make money,” he sings, before reducing them to their shining possessions: “He’s got a gold watch/She’s got a silk dress and healthy breasts/That bounce on his Italian leather sofa.” McCrea is a fine and streamlined lyricist, the kind that can pen an insult capable of attracting its target.

As Cake’s principal songwriter, McCrea often explored the fragile male ego. On the country ballad “She’ll Come Back to Me,” McCrea waits for the return of his estranged lover, ignoring mounting evidence that she is gone for good. On “Friend Is a Four Letter Word,” he piles his plate with self-delusion: “When I go fishing for the words/I am wishing you would say to me/I’m really only praying/That the words you’ll soon be saying/Might betray the way you feel about me.” There is a degree of inadequacy plaguing McCrea’s characters, particularly on “Open Book” and the brief, freakish “Race Car Ya-Yas.” The former describes a woman as a complex tome, stuck with a man who doesn’t “know which page to turn to.” The latter compares inane fuzzy dice to testicles strung “proudly” from rearview mirrors. McCrea swiftly reduces masculinity to something plush and pointless—a testament to his efficiency as a writer. The way he softens the word “fuzzy,” with an extended “ffff” over Brown’s needling guitar, is a small morsel of his wit.

Because Cake dealt in the aesthetics of normalcy, because they were decidedly uncool, they were frequently miscategorized or dismissed as sarcastic. Despite their success (Fashion Nugget would eventually go platinum), concertgoers and booking agents did not know what to do with them. They were put on bills with Korn, the Meters, Deftones, and Al Green. They inexplicably drew screaming teenage crowds, the kind prone to bra-flashing. Cake were compared to Beck and Weezer and the inferior Cracker. But aside from McCrea’s conversational delivery and his status as a “self-aware, medium-funky white guy,” as journalist Rob Harvilla recently put it, there wasn’t anything that sounded quite like Cake at the end of the century. What other band honored the trumpet like a lead guitar, or so effortlessly incorporated the vibraslap?

Only one Cake cut, 1998’s “Never There,” has managed to slip into the Billboard Hot 100. And yet their quintessential song is, undeniably, Fashion Nugget’s lead single “The Distance.” It was the rare track written by Brown, though McCrea insisted on arranging it. But following its breakout success, McCrea seemed to treat “The Distance” as an outlier in their catalog. “White males demand a certain amount of that power-Viking feel,” he told Billboard, trying to explain the single’s appeal. “People respond to that, because deep down inside, we all want to be inside a tall truck and roll over people’s heads.” It seemed like a dig at Brown, who, along with Damiani, left Cake before tracking began on the next album. There was word of inner-band conflict, of hours-long lobbying over whether or not to use reverb on one segment of a bridge. In the summer of ’97, Cake cut short a tour after McCrea collapsed due to “nervous exhaustion.” As the everyman of alternative rock, he was liable to suffer like your average guy.

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Cake - Fashion Nugget Music Album Reviews Cake - Fashion Nugget Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 13, 2022 Rating: 5


Post a Comment