Thursday, July 17, 2008

And a Loooooooooooooooooooong Jacket

Imagine if you amassed every artist and act that could be considered to be in the realm of popular music; laid them out one after another in a long line in descending order, with the greatest, most acclaimed, most influential, etc., etc. on one side and the least talented, worst possible noise pollution on the other. In my opinion the absolute middle point in that massive musical continuum would be CAKE.

Has there any band been so consistently...consistent? Save for perhaps a handful of CAKE fanatics hidden away in some enclave in Sacramento, the feeling among everyone I've known to have listened to them seems to be as indifferent and as passionless as lead singer John McCrea's signature monotone singing style. You know exactly what you're getting when you listen to a CAKE song, the monologue-like voice drowning in irony, the odd cryptic lyrics, the sort of funky bass and guitar, and the ubiquitous trumpets. If someone were to replace your copy of "Comfort Eagle" with "Fashion Nugget" or "Prolonging the Magic", would there really be a difference? Sure, superficially the songs would be different, but at the core, the music would be exactly the same. I can only imagine what it must of been like for someone to have first heard "Rock and Roll Lifestyle" in 1994 on some college radio station. They would have thought it was the future of post-alternative rock, only to be gradually disappointed with every subsequent song and album that showed no change or evolution of the sound. It's not to say that CAKE is bad. You still have to appreciate their absolutely unique output and perhaps even how they've managed to deviate so little from it. And in this tumultuous universe ruled by uncontrollable disorder and chaos, it's actually somewhat comforting to know CAKE will always be CAKE.

Despite the aggressively consistent nature of their music, their video work is another story. CAKE's single greatest triumph as artists is the video for "Short Skirt/Long Jacket", one of my all time favorite music videos. The whole concept is just so brilliantly original and downright elegant in its simplicity and execution: just film people listening to the song and their reactions. If I were the band, I would have just launched an iconic series of these "man on the street" videos like Robert Palmer and his zombie girl bands. I could watch a full length documentary of these quick cuts of fascinating, supposedly real, people giving random, sometimes bizarre observations to the music I'm listening to at the moment. It'd be kind of like "Slacker" without the actors. So out of the more than two dozen people interviewed over the video's span of three and half minutes, I have culled my top ten favorite:
"I don't think it'll get to the top of the pops."

"With the right lead singer it'd be hot."

"I like it, it's a really nice song"
(If it weren't for the fact she would have been around five when the video was made, I could have sworn this was Abigail Breslin)

[Overly Enthusiastic Display of Dancing]

"As a psychologist I'd have to say it has therapeutic value because it releases something deep inside."
(Looks suspiciously like Jeff Goldblum)

"Sounds like some kind of super girl that some feminist would approve of or something."

"I've heard it a million times all the way back to all of the old records which were much better when they first came out back in the 1940's."

(Possibly a time traveler from the future?)

Not bad, not bad. I like this much is this? I'll take two!"

"I miss the rising action, a little bit. The voice is good, it rocks, the song rocks...but a little bit I miss the rising action."
(Quality efficient German constructive criticism)

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