There’s something refreshing about Cake’s musical style — a clever fusion of guitars, horns, percussion, keyboard and the occasional organ. The band has been diversifying the alternative rock scene since the early ’90s, breathing originality into a genre dominated by the same guitar riffs and gruff, scratchy vocals (what is the difference between Nickelback and 3 Doors Down, again?). Unlike some of its alternative peers, Cake plays on touches of funk, ska and jazz, constantly varying and evolving its music into something new, original and, above all, memorable.

Cake

Showroom of Compassion
Upbeat Records

That is, the band did until the release of its latest album Showroom of Compassion. There is nothing revoltingly terrible about the 11-track collection — on the contrary, the songs are all fine. That’s it, though. While the album is pleasant as a whole, few tracks stand out — it’s nearly devoid of irresistible hits like “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and “Going the Distance” that drove the band to popularity.

This isn’t to say Showroom of Compassion lacks catchy tracks altogether. The album’s opening song, “Federal Funding,” features a cool, laid-back beat and an edgy guitar pulsing in the background. The song is iced with a trumpet and French horn, which only add to its easy, funk-infused sound. Together, the parts create an undeniably appealing whole, capable of making any listener feel like a badass.

“Teenage Pregnancy” also makes a bold musical statement, as Cake’s precision and intricacy in the studio shine through on a purely instrumental track. With dark, dejected piano keys and aggressive guitar breaks, the song harnesses powerful emotions in less than three minutes. The captivating blend of sounds showcases Cake’s musical range and sets the album apart from much of the band’s earlier material.

Few of the album’s other tracks make the same impression as these two. Songs like “Mustache Man” and “Easy to Crash” attempt to follow in the funky footsteps of “Federal Funding,” making use of the same strong horn parts and a low, rhythmic guitar. However, the songs don’t offer anything new. Instead, they employ similar instrumentals and vocals without melding the sounds into anything notably original. They feel flat and familiar, fading into the background of the album.

“Got to Move” carves the album’s mediocrity even further. Though Cake is known for its inventiveness, the role of instruments in the song is simple and less impressive than in past work. Instead of building upon each other dynamically, the guitars and keyboard wail the same slow melody continuously. Additionally, the vocals are slightly underwhelming; each line rhymes perfectly and sounds obvious, forced, verging on irritating. Even the piano part isn’t enough to rescue the track from its dull, predictable sound.

When Cake does attempt to diversify Showroom of Compassion, the results sound awkward and out of place. “Bound Away” takes on an unexpected country persona, complete with twangy guitars and crooning vocals. In a different context the track might shine, but here it sounds more like the theme song to a gimmicky Western flick more than anything else.

Showroom of Compassion might not be hideously bad — or, for that matter, bad at all — but compared to the band’s past work, it comes as disappointment. Though it starts out strong with “Federal Funding,” the rest of the tracks don’t offer anything new or exciting. The alternative rock scene might just have to wait for future Cake albums for the next fiery “Comfort Eagle” or “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” megahit, because this record just doesn’t deliver.

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