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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cake: Fashion Nugget

So here we meet for yet another Alternative Retro Review, and this week, the musical pioneer is the famous "talk rock" band, Cake. Fashion Nugget, released in 1996, was truly one of the first of it's kind. True there had been other bands who'd done the same thing a decade before, but none had tapped into this genre or attained quite the success as Cake. With their hit, "The Distance", this album spread like wildfire. I know within my little high school freshman click of 5, we each had a copy (dumb I know, but I like to throw a touch of personals into everything I write). It was the album to have. It was trendy to adults and teens alike and much different than other bands out there. So, without further ado, please embark with me on the journey known as Fashion Nugget.

The album begins with a snazzy and jazzy track called "Frank Sinatra". It's a fun one, with quirky lyrics and lots of personality, a characteristic very common with many of Cake's songs. There's also a good use of horns in this song, which give it that jazzier element. Don't let the title fool you though... I've never found this song to be remotely about Frank other than the brief mention of the late singer's name performing, "Stormy Weather". I think it's purely one of the random things that cake chose to do. It's a great song that is one of my favorites on the album. "The Distance" speaks for itself. Most people have heard the song at one point or another and some of you, like me, have probably played it endlessly upon opening your copy of Fashion Nugget. It's a funky track that seems to be about "being in a race", though things are not always what they seem (as Cale noted in his Sia Concert Review, about the song Lentil). This song is all "talk rock" except for the background vocals, which is so cool to me. I've listened to, and loved "The Distance" so much, I'd almost forgotten, that lead singer John McCrae never sings a single note in the entire song. Crazy...

"Friend is a Four Letter Word" is a slower track that's a little more solemn, but still very memorable and fun to sing to. In fact, I hadn't heard this album in probably 2 years, but when I put it in the other day and sang along with every word to this song, it was as if I'd listened to it every day. The chorus is comprised of the lyrics, "To me, coming from you, friend is a four letter word. 'End' is the only part of the word that I heard, call me morbid or absurd, but to me, coming from you, friend is a four letter word." Nope, I don't know what it means, but I like singin' it. By this point in this album, you know that the trumpet is not only a one song feature, but it's practically an additional band member, it's used so often. It's also a great addition to this song. "Open Book" is another one of my favorite songs on the album, because it's quite similar to going the distance, as far as musical sound. There's no "talking" in this song, but the overall musical feel is identical. It's got similar guitar effects, percussion, and goofy lyrics. My favorite part of this song is during the chorus, when McCrae says, "You may think she's an open book, but you don't know which page to turn to, do you, do you, do you?" It may not read like much, but when executed, it's a nice effect. There's also some abrupt dissonance in the chorus, which I find super cool. Did I mention that the beginning of the song almost makes me feel like a high hippie?

"Daria" is an interesting song, but not one of my favorites. It's got some good things working for it, like good lyrics, some new percussion, and a lot of changes in general sound throughout the song. I just feel like, overall, they have more entertaining tracks on Fashion Nugget than "Daria". However, "Race Car Ya-Yas" is a fantastic song on this album, probably the best if you're into Cake's talk rock feel. The entire song, a 1:21, is "The land of race car ya-yas. The land where you can't change lanes. The land where large, fuzzy dice, still hang proudly, like testicles from rear view mirrors". Just because this song is spoken, don't feel like it's identical to "The Distance". The trumpet has some crazy sounding solos, the guitar has a very different sound to it, and the percussion is not similar at all. Not to mention, this song is completely hysterical, which adds to the entertainment factor. "I Will Survive" is of course, a cover, but it's a well done cover. It follows the same path as the original, just with McCrae's vocals and the addition of, "I should've changed my f&@#in' lock". Other than that, it's a well done cover with a good guitar solo right in the middle...oh and you won't be ashamed of singing this one out loud.

"Stickshifts and Safetybelts" has a country feel to it because of the guitar melody and peppy percussion, but it's most definitely entertaining. It's a cute little track about how the driver of the car feels like stickshifts and safetybelts get in the way of his "baby" sitting next to him when he's driving. It's another one that I really like a lot on this album. "Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps" is a little bit overrated in my opinion. The trumpet is excellent in this song, but I think the lyrics are a little on the dull side. Musically, except for the trumpet, it's not too entertaining. You can do better on this album. I feel exactly the same way about "It's Coming Down", except for in this song, I think the background vocals are great. If the song was simply background vocals, I'd love it, otherwise, see the previous song's description and omit "trumpet".

...and we're back to Cake's talk rock again with "Nugget". This song is also funny, but slightly awkward to listen to in front of the parents and/or preachers. Every other word in this song is f@$#...and it's not subtle. I'm not sure what this song is about though, because the lyrics in this one are way random. If you don't mind the overly used word f@$# in this song, it's actually pretty entertaining and the music itself is good too. "She'll Come Back to Me" is another song with a country-flair feel. In fact, with it's sad, yet hopeful lyrics, I think that if this song had a different vocalist, you might hear it in a country bar. This song also makes good use of the trumpet in a few spots, and though it's a sad song, the music remains fairly light. The steel guitar just makes me want to have a beer or something... "Italian Leather Sofa" is a cheerful song that I generally find myself listening to rather than singing along with. My complaint about this song is that it's too freakin' long for them. All of their other songs average 2-3 minutes, but this one is almost 6 minutes long. I like the song enough, but not for 6 minutes. Musically, it's not bad though. "Sad Songs and Waltzes" is a slow track that is instrumentally sparse and it seems like a strange way to end their generally upbeat album. However, it's a good one with nice lyrics and some good harmonies.

Fashion Nugget was a success for Cake and it still remains one of my favorite Alternative Rock albums of the 90's. It was just so unique back then, and now, over 10 years later, it's still just as unique. I feel like if you didn't own this album in the 90's you missed out, and if you still don't own it, you should definitely add it to your collection.

Key Tracks:
1. Frank Sinatra
2. The Distance
3. Open Book
4. Race Car Ya-Yas
5. Stickshifts and Safetybelts

7 out of 10 stars


Cale said...'s about a breakup or a rejection. When you hear "I just want to be your friend" or "let's just be friends" it's like a four-letter word because it's so offensive and off-putting. All you hear is "end" because that relationship is going nowhere.

Good review though.

Erin said...

Hey thanks. I know the song is about a break up, but I guess I just don't use four letter words enough... I'm like an alien or something. :)