Cake probably does not sound like the most pissed-off band on the planet. They crept increasingly closer to a vaguely political bend with a few tracks on each successive album, but songs like “Sheep Go to Heaven” and “Love You Madly” indicated they always had a ways to go. Nevertheless, John McCrea never seemed to hesitate to let loose his generally pessimistic worldview.
Pressure Chief is quintessential Cake, its bubbly pop songs flaunting their melodies and horn-laden arrangements. But the band’s fifth album is also its most outwardly negative. That’s not to say there isn’t the usual dose of brightness and folk simplicity that’s present on their previous albums — tracks like “Dime” and “Baskets” could carry the entire album in this department — but the band’s usual shot of pessimism seems to have lost its subtlety. Perhaps after years of their incessant cynicism being mistaken for irony, the dissatisfaction of the Sacramento, California-based band is far more upfront. “Carbon Monoxide,” a fantastically upbeat song, is unmistakably a portrait of a pissed-off bystander breathing in exhaust fumes. “Wheels” and “Take It All Away” are tales of troubled or severed relationships, and “No Phone” is a simple diatribe on the annoyance of cell phones.
McCrea’s frankness is appreciated, but Pressure Chief boasts far more musical shortcomings than its predecessors. Many of the songs run about thirty seconds longer than they should, which is surprising coming from a band that seemed to always know where to trim the fat. “Wheels” and “No Phone” each add an unnecessary chorus or bridge section. It’s especially noticeable, since past hits were structured with Lego-like precision.
The song selection is mostly hit or miss. “Take It All Away” and the limp run-through of Bread’s “The Guitar Man” are some of the bands weakest tracks to date, although “Dime” and “Carbon Monoxide” are practically perfect. This album’s indulgence in goofy synth sounds is almost a step backward from Comfort Eagle‘s real maturation of sound (see “Meanwhile, Rick James …” for clarification), but these tracks indicate that it might just be a better fit for Cake. If Monkees-like keyboards are the best way to express dissatisfaction over car exhaust, then so be it. And with another four years of Dubya in office, another pissed-off Cake album with the same friendly hooks, the same simple album art, and the same dismal worldview is surely just around the corner.