CAKE – Fashion Nugget

This review has since been republished on CritiqueBrainz.

I like this album, why – well let me try and summarize why. This isn’t my entry point to CAKE, instead that was 2001’s Comfort Eagle – which features maybe their most recognised work “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”. How I came to this album was from hearing the track “Friend is a Four Letter Word” from the MTV animated show Daria. I was born in 94, so I never managed to enjoy the counterculture that blossomed during the decade – however like many who are my age we all have this strange connection to the music, art, tv and film that was being released at the time we were tiny organisms inside our mothers wombs or playing with blocks at pre-school. Maybe there was something in the water?

I watched Daria at the emotionally turbulent time of being 18 years old, and found common ground with the lead characters sarcastic and almost morose outlook on the world and adult life. So much so that when “Friend is a Four Letter Word” finished the episode “Dye! Dye! My Darling”* I was left scrambling to find out what this track was, it just struck something with me and I listened to this track on-repeat for weeks.

Recently I have been making effort to pick out albums where I know only one/two tracks and then see if they would fit into my collection. About two weeks ago I listened to Fashion Nugget in full for the first time, and I liked it – but not as much as Comfort Eagle. Looking online there are quite a few people giving their opinions on this album, I guess CAKE are one of those bands who are just popular enough that people “know” them but they aren’t known by everyone. The album has some hidden greats, which have that fantastic pop-jazz-rock fusion sound with McCrea’s almost strained, pained vocals and then there are some tracks that are just too obtuse to enjoy.

Great tracks include the opening track “Frank Sinatra” to which the lyrics are nearly nonsensical but speaks with a tone of bleakness that feels all too familiar for many people transitioning from child to adult. Followed by “The Distance” which paces confidentially along for its three minute run-time explaining that feeling of empowerment many young men experience when courting a stranger. This song oozes so much confidence it almost feels arrogant, but never fully tips over. Coming together to form a trinity of good tracks, in position 3 is my favourite track “Friend is a Four Letter Word” a love song that is so pure in emotion it might just be one of my favourite love songs ever made. Everyone’s experienced the emotions that are being played out in this song, the feeling of realising how you truly feel about someone who only considers you as a friend. What I find great about this track is it never mentions what the four letter word is – is it love? Or it could even be hate? Moving past this high point we come to “Open Book”, the first track on the album which just didn’t flow well for me. The chorus is great, but with the double-tracked lines and one too many words, it stumbles, falls flat and just feels awkward. “Daria” is set at position 5 (I wonder if they used so many tracks from this album in the original broadcast of Daria because of this track?) which picks up the slack a little from track 4. It features that unique CAKE lyricism of what sounds like the cliqué poetry so many of us tried our hands at while being teenagers – something I personally enjoy.

“Race Car Ya-Yas” is one of the tracks I mentioned earlier in this review – something that is just a little bit too obscure for me to find any enjoyment in at all. I normally love songs that speak out about trying to break the mould but this track goes nowhere and simply repeats the same nonsense over and over – luckily it’s short. Covers are a dice roll for me, and it usually depends on how treasured the original is to me. Now I am no Gloria Gaynor fan, but I am very familiar of the original “I Will Survive”. I like this cover, I understand that this is some people’s favourite track on the album – but for me I simply find it achieving a passing grade. I enjoy the angst and misery found in what is often considered an empowering song, giving it the song just that added bit of attitude. One of my passions and hobbies aside from writing these long reviews are cars – and all aspects of car culture, so with this I can appreciate a good car song. Is “Stickshifts and Safetybelts” one of these tracks, er not really. Like it has a fun country feel, and I enjoy some of the comparisons drawn (the track simply explains how even though McCrea is not the fittest, sportiest guy he is very affectionate and has that wholesome feel of a classic car which is missing in modern sports cars). I can’t place what I don’t like about this track, but again it’s a passing grade. “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” is a great track about having to deal with someone indecisive, and the frustrations it can cause when trying to gauge if a relationship is on the cards.

After passing the halfway mark on the album we reach another favourite song from the album, “It’s Coming Down”. I don’t know why I like this, it has almost (maybe worse?) lyrical content to “Race Car Ya-Yas” but I just love how it is a perfect soundtrack for those situations when you have upset the one you love, usually unknowingly. “Nugget” is the title track (?), but I just don’t jam with this song at all. Again, I am usually all for these “anthems” against the establishment but this just feels forced and maybe a bit too predictable – and the “shut the fuck up” in the chorus just doesn’t feel right for CAKE. Following this demonstration of immaturity, we get another lacking track “She’ll Come Back to Me”. Maybe it’s because of the person I am, and I simply don’t believe in waiting for something that may never be, but this track just edges over into almost pathetic territory in the world of “sad love songs”.

With two tracks left to cover, the album ends on two high notes for me. “Italian Leather Sofa” is another audience favourite, filled with great metaphors about McCrea’s frustrations with some attractive girl who apparently doesn’t care about McCrea’s personal attributes, instead preferring people with watches and italian leather sofa’s. The album ends on a somber note with “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, which to me is a great parody of those classic country songs from the 60s and 70s. Self-aware that the target audience of this album aren’t going to buy any country albums with sad songs and waltzes on it, CAKE have hidden this track at the end of an alternative rock album which some could argue reached its golden age in the 90s. Also I love how snarky this track is, that McCrea knows that no-one will play this song on the radio at the time of release, so all of the girls he sings about in his songs shouldn’t worry because he will never be a big star.

All in all, I enjoy this album for what it is. It will most probably stay with me in my collection forever, most notably as a landmark of my development as a person. I hope to share this with my own children at some point, and if my son has to deal with the same emotional obstacles that I have he may find resolve in these 14 tracks.

*Note, I somehow ended up watching a copy of this episode without the dreaded replaced music – thank god for that!

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