Saturday, June 30, 2012
Cake: Motorcade of Generosity (1994)
(s/r [later Capricorn])
Breaking: junior high school nostalgia trip hits brick wall.
Things I still like about the first and easily best album by a band whose sardonics now rub me completely the wrong way: the joyous (and significantly, wordless) bridge of "Comanche"; Vince di Fiore's trumpet licks on "Up So Close" -- also the attempted rhyme of the title with "microscope"; the melodrama of "You Part the Waters," which was in a David O. Russell movie I think; all of "Jesus Wrote a Blank Check," a minor but infectious rockabilly creation; not the smug, contemptuous "Rock N Roll Lifestyle" itself but happy memories of the Daria (talk of peaking early...) episode in which it appeared; the actually somewhat ambitious and philosophical if overlong "Mr. Mastodon Farm," which I think was probably my father's least favorite song I owned when I was a teenager.
And... well... I don't like the condescension that drips over everything. I can't deal with that sort of shit anymore. It's little wonder that John McCrea would later collaborate with Ben Folds, whose band appealed to me for similar reasons and is now similarly useless to me. When I was a kid I hated the classicist teen angst bands like Nirvana and Green Day (and still do, fyi); I perceived groups like Cake and Ben Folds Five as being more to my liking because they delivered what I now understand to be the same angst in a dreamcoat of wit and the all-important teen trope of sarcasm. But this isn't wit, it's clever boys who know they're clever, and it's incredibly tiresome. In fairness, Cake would get worse in this department then improve immensely on the much more user-friendly Prolonging the Magic and would even occasionally be genuinely funny (from Comfort Eagle's "Short Skirt... Long Jacket," "At Citibank we will meet accidentally / We'll start to talk when she borrows my pen" still makes me laugh) but by that time they would have sacrificed the gritty country-rock minimalism that gave their music its appeal in the first place.
Like all Cake albums, this one is repetitive and dry, the performances uninspired to the point of being insipid -- the band's only distinctive personalities are their winning trumpeter Vince di Fiore and their utterly obnoxious singer John McCrea, whose deadpan snotty delivery immediately reveals the reason this band's music speaks primarily to teenagers. If by some slim chance there are portions of the lyrics meant to be read sincerely ("Right then she knew there must be something more" on "Jolene" or "I am thinking of you wondering what I should do" on "Haze of Love," both delivered like the dude's going over his taxes with an accountant) he single-handedly sabotages them. It's easy to see what this anti-amibitious crew was aiming for, though, and it comes together in fits and starts: "Ruby Sees All" is still a great song, and the lyrics aren't stupid. "Jolene" is an excellent song, but its entire last minute is wasted real estate. I spent late nights my whole ninth grade year jamming to "Jolene" and brooding and wishing to get the hell out of where I was, like pretty much everyone does -- think I succeeded but it's awfully easy to bring those feelings back when these canned-sounding guitar tracks pop up. And now I can't escape the sense that I was being manipulated.
Really, the songwriting is generally solid -- I compared this record to Brill Building pop a lot and I see what I meant, but not in totality: "Haze of Love" sounds like about a third of a Goffin-King composition, but there's no way in hell those two would have allowed three full minutes of meandering and riffing on the same basic melodic theme over and over with just one slight variation.
The CD I'm listening to is unusually well-mastered for a '90s album. Apparently the record was later "refurbished" to become louder, ha. Of course. Fun fact: I originally owned this on cassette. Wonder where that is.
If John McCrea says "aw" one more time I will spit my Froot Loops all over this lapt