By nature, B-side albums come late in a band’s career. Also by nature is that what’s included was — for a specific reason at the time — left off a studio album. In this way, retrospective albums can have a retroactive effect: As a late entry into an already full catalog, they complement the proud fan’s collection. But as a separate album, standing alone, they can color how we see a band — independent of any progression or seminal albums or even the all-important hit single.
Cake’s B-Sides and Rarities is a very good companion album, but it’s misleading in the way that it digs more into Cake’s country background than anything else. Yes, Cake had country leanings, but if musical history decides to remember the band, it will be for its skewed, razor-sharp amalgamation of funk and country (with Mariachi tendencies), like “Satan Is My Motor” and “Let Me Go” from 1998’s Prolonging the Magic, and “Shadow Stabbing” from 2001’s Comfort Eagle. “Shadow Stabbing,” by way of singer John McCrea’s characteristically sardonic wit and nasal, behind-the-beat delivery, perfectly encapsulates Cake’s strength as a band able to fuse the energy and precision of funky rock ‘n’ roll with the naked emotion of country.
So it does a disservice to Cake for this B-sides compilation album to include exclusively country songs “Strangers in the Night,” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache,” and “Subtract One Love (Multiply the Heartache)” separated from the digital, Flaming Lips funk instrumental “Conroy” and a humorous take on the familiar “Mahna, Mahna” (popularized in a dozen TV commercials). Another rocker, “Thrills,” is instrumental except for sampled speeches, which gives the impression that Cake can do two things well but can never do them at the same time. And the inclusion of two versions of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” only proves, twice, that there’s a reason they never properly released it.
For a band whose longevity is a result of its seamless ability to incorporate the best of several genres without resorting to shtick, B-Sides and Rarities suffers not from Cake’s lack of great material but from a lack of understanding of how to represent it.