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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Cake: The Cake

THE CAKE: THE CAKE (1967)

1) Baby That's Me; 2) World Of Dreams; 3) You Can Have Him; 4) Medieval Love; 5) Fire Fly; 6) Rainbow Wood; 7) I Know; 8) Mockingbird; 9) Ooh Poo Pah Doo; 10) Stand By Me; 11) What'd I Say.

Could there possibly be such a thing as «nostalgia for 1964» in 1967? Even if there could not, it is hard to believe these days that The Cake, an all-girl group established in New York around 1966, was not intentionally going against the current trends and sticking to the old ways of The Ronettes and other Spector-related bands, at a time when white ladies were beginning to opt for various kinds of change (the Mamas & Papas model, the Grace Slick model, the Janis model, the Joni Mitchell model — quite a bit of choice out there).

Anyway, it is hard to tell to which extent Jeanette Jacobs, Barbara Morillo, and Eleanor Baroo­shian were their own creations and to which extent they were molded and marketed by their managers, Charles Greene and Brian Stone (same ones who originally took care of Sonny & Cher) — but one thing is clear: this album sets out to prove that it is perfectly possible to provide Spec­torian music without Spector himself being involved, and comes fairly close to proving it. The girls' vocals, once they all come together, are astoundingly similar to The Ronettes, and the ar­rangements, recorded at the same Gold Star Studios where Spector did most of his work and handled by a large chunk of the Wrecking Crew, reproduce the wall-of-sound to perfection.

The first side of the album is, in fact, as close to girl-group-pop perfection as could theoretically be. The first two songs were written specially for the band — ʽBaby That's Meʼ by Jack Nitzsche and Jackie DeShannon, and ʽWorld Of Dreamsʼ by Dr. John: big, pompous, sunny, friendly anthems that should be part of any Sixties' lovers' collection, period (even if ʽBaby That's Meʼ shamelessly steals vocal moves from ʽDon't Worry Babyʼ, and ʽWorld Of Dreamsʼ does not progress anywhere past the first verse). By the time of the third track, they are beginning to get more than just good — more creative, with a slowed-down, psychedelicized version of the old country-rocker ʽYou Can Have Herʼ (amended to ʽHimʼ, of course), building tension as each new verse gradually climbs up the scale, and the strings add further grandiosity.

The biggest surprise comes with the next three songs — all of a sudden, the girls are not merely performers and interpreters, but songwriters, and the songs they write are in a completely dif­ferent mold: a three-part suite, presented as a «pseudo-live» chamber orchestra performance (with some crowd noises and tuning up sounds preceding the actual songs) and written strictly in the baroque-pop genre, with strings, woodwinds, and multi-part harmonies. Perhaps a song title like ʽMedieval Loveʼ is a little too telling, but the harmony and string arrangements on all three tracks are surprisingly complex, and the melancholic mood is infectious. This may be about as «authen­tic» as, say, any similar genre exercises by The Monkees in their psychedelic period, but if you do not set your expectations on a ʽFor No Oneʼ / ʽEleanor Rigbyʼ level, these are quite pleasant and tasteful genre exercises — considering that Morillo and Jacobs, credited as authors, pretty much came out of nowhere, a very impressive start.

Unfortunately, no surprise like this can be sustained for too long, and the album's second side is a big letdown — as if they suddenly discovered they were out of material, and hastened to stuff it with adequately recorded, but generally useless covers of such standards as ʽStand By Meʼ and ʽWhat'd I Sayʼ. Jessie Hill's ʽOhh Poo Pah Dooʼ is also slowed down, but the new groove adds little of interest to the old one — and, overall, where the first side, with its wall of sound tech­niques and loud strings, had an interesting mix of Motown, baroque, and psychedelic elements, the second is more traditional, brass-based R&B that hardly stands competition with Atlantic, despite everybody's best intentions.

Still a thumbs up — it may be clear from the start that the group did not have much of a future in 1967, but after a while, some dead ends end up sounding much more alive than others, and The Cake, or at least its first side, will be a cool discovery for all those who want to make their knowledge of the greatest era in pop music as comprehensive as possible. Besides, now that you know about this album's existence, you can always cut your opponent down to size with a «Cherilyn Sarkisian? Bah! Who needs that? Eleanor Barooshian — now you're talking!»

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