My experience with Cake's Showroom of Compassion began with a lot of shifty looks. Truth be told, I didn't really dig the band's sixth record on its initial listen. I can't cop to being much of a fan of these Sacramento cats either, so that may have had something to do with my reluctance.
Nevertheless, I continued to give Showroom of Compassion its opportunity to dig its way into my head and it eventually did. This is Cake's first album since 2004's Pressure Chief, representing the longest gap in the band's catalogue thus far.
What captivates, sooner or later, about Showroom of Compassion is the way the juxtaposition entrenches itself. John McCrea's blank-faced vocals offer bits of black humour. The band folds around, coming up with some surprisingly gorgeous movements at times ("Got to Move" is a fantastic song) and some really idiosyncratic stuff at other times.
Cake has always lived by the value of defying genres, it seems. While they've won my respect for that notion, they haven't exactly pulled me in until now. I can't say Showroom of Compassion has me springing to the store for more, but it does have me nodding my head and, when nobody's looking, tapping my right foot. Only the right one, though.
It pays to be somewhat removed, Cake tells us, and as "Federal Funding" kicks off Showroom we know they mean it. The track begins with Xan McCurdy's guitar and McCrea's deadpan assertion that "You've received the federal funding, you can add another wing."
Lead single "Sick of You" clocks in with a vibe that reminds a little of Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip. It's an old-school corker with background vocals and horns that draws on all the best elements of garage rock. McCrea even howls. Yes, howls.
The instrumental "Teenage Pregnancy" is a decent exploration of the band's musical talents, bolstered by Vince DiFiore's trumpet and guitar over an awkward piano foundation.
"The Winter" is a lovely piece of work. Distanced, distorted backing vocals contribute to the song's cold bleakness, while DiFiore once again brings the trumpet to the party. Yes Virginia, those are sleighbells in the backdrop.
Showroom of Compassion isn't an immediately captivating record. Because Cake stuffs so many ingredients into the mix, it can take a while for the complete picture to emerge. But if my experience has any value at all, the band's sixth proves to be a rather rewarding experience after things settle and the candles are blown out.