Everything about the band Cake is great. They developed the most original sound of the mid 90s and have stayed the course for over 20 years. I like a lot of other bands better and have listened to them more, but Cake definitely stands out as an absolutely original and authentic sound from my teen years right up today. Here’s why.
Now that I’ve used the word twice in my opening paragraph, let’s roll with this concept. What other bands sounded like Cake before they came on the scene? None. Who has copied them to try to get a slice of the pie? No one. Because no one can. Beck and the Presidents of the United States were the only mainstream acts at the time that were even remotely similar. And they were still not at all the same, because why? Cake will be what Cake will be and we need only reck-a-nize.
10 years ago I was into emo and suffered through the My Chemical Romance/Fall Out Boy/Panic! at the Disco indistinguishable pablom. Even now if you Google the lyrics “I swear haven’t you people ever heard of closing the goddamn door” the first result tells you it is a Fall Out Boy song, when it is a Panic! song. For serious. This is not a problem with Cake. No one has lyrics that good, or a sound that distinct. And really, trumpets and vibraslap. Vibraslap!! Ain’t no body else even trying to go there.
(As an aside, regarding Panic! at the Disco – what is it about bands from Las Vegas that are kind of weird and macho, blow up culturally everywhere but have a sound I just can’t stand? They and Imagine Dragons would be two other examples of bands from Vegas that I wish would just go away forever. I wish the same for Avicii and Bastille but that’s for a different post about the condition of current Europop. Also, the Killers, though they are from Las Vegas, do not count because The Killers. Enough said.)
Being an indie band before it was a thing, but getting massive radio play.
None of this new self-righteous “oh, we’re awesome BECAUSE we don’t get radio airplay. We’re true to ourselves.” Well, Cake was true to themselves, still is, and still punched up successful single after successful single. What they didn’t do was try to squeeze out more records or singles just because of their name and in-the-moment popularity. When bands do that, they will always fail. For Cake it was always about making an incredible song, and when they didn’t have an incredible song, you didn’t hear them on the radio. Simple as that. Name one Cake song that flopped. Can’t be done. Weezer also succeeded at this, until they released “Beverly Hills” which is a pox on all things good and true.
Achieving cultural staying power without succumbing to the death-by-repetition rule.
In , like, I don’t know, all of their songs. They stay in your head. Everyone knows them, but they don’t become known FOR BEING overplayed (as opposed to Eiffel 65 or The Baha Men). Short Skirt Long Jacket? Yep, stuck in my head forever, and I still love the song. The Distance? Yeah, I WANT that in my head as often as possible, please.
Doing cool things outside of their claimed genre (whatever it is) just because (i.e. Mountain Stage).
Back in 2010-2011 we used to listen to Mountain Stage a lot, like every weekend, sometimes twice in a weekend. We lived overseas and Voice of America would air the show from the previous week, and it was one of the only lifelines by which we could feel connected back to home. We listened mainly for the bluegrass and Americana newcomers, and the awesome country pioneers like members of the Carter Family or Doc Watson before he died.
And then one day, the last guest, with the longest set, was none other than Cake. To my estimation this defied all logic for the traditional programming of Mountain Stage and it made me laugh just hearing that they were on the bill. But their set was funny, peppy, quirky, interactive, and the crowd seemed to love it even though it was in no way similar to what usually is featured on the program. (That show also included Old 97s and Hayes Carll, two of our absolute favorites, and the original reason we were listening).
Touring with a huge diversity of supporting artists, or not with any supporting artists.
I would accept a tour with Cake and Calexico, or Cake and Beck, or all three. But that doesn’t mean they have to tour together. Last year Cake did the Sasquatch Festival that had Mumford and Sons and Macklemore headlining. They really weren’t top of the bill at all, but does that matter? Nope.
They also played the Doug Fir for two nights, with no opening acts. Just them. Because they can hold that down and not just because they’re on a “golden years” tour or something.
So there you go. Listen to more Cake. You’ll thank yourself.