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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Cake: A Slice Of Cake


1) Have You Heard The News 'Bout Miss Molly; 2) P. T. 280; 3) Sadie; 4) Tides Of Love; 5) Walkin' The Dog / Something's Got A Hold On Me / Big Boy Pete; 6) Extroverted Introvert; 7) Under The Tree Of Love And Laughter; 8) Annabelle Clarke; 9) Who Will Wear The Crown; 10) Island Of Plenty.

Cake's second and last album was even shorter than the first — just ten tracks, clocking in at around 26 minutes — but it also was a big step forward for the group, and certainly makes you wonder what the future could have in store for them if the record had at least a little bit of com­mercial success. Here, the seeds that were sown with the three-song «medieval suite» of The Cake optimistically spring up with a whole series of such compositions, as the ladies write more than half of the songs on their own and significantly cut down on the Phil Spector / Motown as­pects of the debut — and the results are almost surprisingly astonishing. (I write almost, because in this age we seem to be finally accustomed to the idea that women even in the Sixties could be accomplished songwriters; the element of surprise rather concerns Decca executives, all of them probably male, who allowed Jacobs, Morillo, and Barooshian to record and release their own stuff. Now that's thinking progressively!).

Baroque, psychedelic, and even Kinks-style Brit-pop influences are all over this platter, as the girls weave a fully credible, if not tremendously original, musical tapestry of isolation, melan­cholia, and claustrophobic amorousness. Like many other artists at the time, they often prefer the detached role of a Greek chorus onlooker — even the song titles, preferring to refer to ʽMiss Mollyʼ and ʽAnnabelle Clarkeʼ rather than ʽIʼ, indicate that, and it gives the songs an aura of extra depth and wisdom; more importantly, they are simply fine songs. ʽMiss Mollyʼ, woven out of acoustic guitars, harpsichords, clarinets, chamber strings, and intricate relations between lead and backing vocals, goes through several tempo shifts and several personal stories — all it lacks is a particularly heart-tugging hook, but even in the absence of that the whole thing just oozes class and distinction on a general level. ʽAnnabelle Clarkeʼ, on the other hand, is a little less interesting in terms of atmosphere, but goes for that hook with gusto — "Annabelle Clarke has learned to live life better" cuts across almost as sharp as "what a drag it is getting old" or "he's a dedicated follower of fashion".

Probably the most unusual tune of them all is ʽExtroverted Introvertʼ, preserving the group har­mony principle but also multiplying it with a wild samba beat, baroque string flourishes, and a poppy vocal melody at the same time — a crazyass combination that somehow works, creating an atmosphere of amicable madness and, for that matter, fully corresponding with its musical weird­ness to the paradox expressed in the title. But that is not to undermine the coolness of the nearly accappella ʽUnder The Tree Of Love And Laughterʼ, a tune that sounds far more grim and de­pressing than the title suggests; or the psychedelic swoop of ʽP. T. 280ʼ, switching between tight rhythmic pop and atmospheric folk sections and throwing every instrument they could lay their hand on in the studio into the mix; or ʽIsland Of Plentyʼ, ending the record on a touchingly opti­mistic note that can probably be traced all the way back to oldies like ʽBig Rock Candy Moun­tainʼ, only here its burly country roots are all overgrown with psycho-baroque weeds.

Even the few R&B leftovers are fun — the big medley in the middle is, for some reason, intro­duced with a few out-of-tune bars of ʽThe Wedding Marchʼ, and then they tie three different tunes to the same rhythmic pattern, as if subtly mocking the genre that got them started; and Dr. John's ʽWho Will Wear The Crownʼ is a good energy ball to explode in the middle of all that baroque mopeyness, just as it begins getting a bit too mopey-ish. This is precisely the kind of pro­portion that was needed on the first album — except it was reversed there, downplaying the girls' strengths in favor of their ordinariness. A Slice Of Cake, on the other hand, does it precisely right, and ends up as a charming way to spend 26 minutes of your Sixties-lovin' time, and a good reason for an enthusiastic thumbs up. Sure, it wasn't that big a crime to have it overlooked in mid-1968, when masterpieces sprung out of nowhere on an almost daily basis — but in our modern era of «anything goes», it certainly makes more sense to dig it out, dust it off, and give it a fair reappraisal rather than go on a hunt for those present day artists who try to make it sound like 1968 all over again without having a clue of what it was actually like in 1968.

Alas, once the record was done, the girls pretty immediately vanished into total obscurity — for a little while more, their heads still occasionally bobbed above the water, either backing up Dr. John on his tours or even working, of all people, with Ginger Baker's Air Force (hey, I told you they were special, didn't I?), but, unfortunately, the lack of recognition just ended up killing off any songwriting ambitions that Jacobs, Morello, and Barooshian may have had. Too bad — with a little more perseverance and a little luck, they could have had quite a progressive future waiting for them, but I guess you can't have your Cake and eat it too. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

1 comment:

  1. Great reviews George. You should check out the other band Cake, without the "the." In case you didn't know, they are a great little '90's alternative pop band from my hometown of Sacramento, California. Their biggest hit was "The Distance." One of my favorite bands. I always thought you would like them.