There seem to be three schools of thought on the evolution of Cake (the band, not the food). One seems to think that the band has reached a state of stylistic stagnation, and that all of their most work is jarringly similar to that of their early albums. The second thinks that Cake is enjoyable, and while they aren't doing anything new or revolutionary, they are some of the finest fun-music makers working today. The third doesn't know who Cake is.
I fall into the second group, although I'd even argue that the band has clearly branched out a bit from its breakthrough hits Motorcade of Generosity and Fashion Nugget. There's very little on the market that matches the sheer energy of Cake. Almost every song they've released has been instantly singable, hummable, clappable, and danceable. The band is as fun as the music--for instance, watching lead singer John McCrea performing various percussion instrumentation with a look of joy on his face is something to behold.
Their most recent piece was 2006's Pressure Chief. As many critics point out, it is more of the same in many ways. It's still the bouncy California pop that Cake fans have come to know and love. However, there are several notable variations to the Cake repertoire. This album incorporates electronic instruments and noises to great effect, and it's a production technique that would be hard to find on their previous releases. This occurs throughout the album, but is probably used to best effect in "Take It All Away" and "Palm of Your Hand."
As with most albums by most artists, there are a number of lesser tracks on there. "Carbon Monoxide" may be the most peppy and fun song on the album, but it seems a bit out of place. Cake's cover of Bread's "The Guitar Man" is interesting, but just sort of sits there in the middle of the album. "Waiting" isn't bad, but it reminds me of "Bread and Butter" by The Newbeats for reasons that I'm sure we'll never know.
My favorite track on the disc by far is "End of the Movie," which seems to be the complete antithesis of Cake. The instrumentation is light. It's essentially an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, and McCrae's earnest voice. Coupled with it are some of Cake's best, wryest lyrics (not that Cake is known for its poetry, but...you know...). "People you love will turn their backs on you. You'll lose your hair. Your teeth. Your knife will fall out of its sheath. But you still don't like to leave before the end of the movie." The song also utilizes another of my favorite musical techniques--the false ending. Wonderful.
Other stand-outs are "Wheels," "Palm of Your Hand," and "Tougher Than It Is." Any one of these three songs would be a great choice to introduce the band to an uninitiated friend, as they're optimistic and easy-to-dance-to tracks that incorporate the trademark horns and twanging electric guitar so often associated with Cake. It may not be the best Cake album--an honor which goes to either Fashion Nugget or Comfort Eagle--but it's certainly a fun and easy listen. Pop it in your car stereo on your next drive and you'll be singing in no time.
Cake: End of the Movie
Cake: Palm of Your Hand