Prolonging the Magic is CAKE's third studio album, released
October 6, 1998 on Capricorn Records, their last on that label. It
produced their most successful single to date in Never There (which
made number 1 on Modern Rock Tracks), though the album only ever
reached #33 on the Billboard 200.
At this point, CAKE's lineup was:
McCrea - lead vocals/guitars acoustic and electric/Organ/Moog
synthesiser/composition of all tracks (except where noted below)
Vince DiFiore - trumpet
Gabe Nelson - bass/mandolin/piano/electric guitar
Todd Roper - drums/percussion/backing vocals
first guitarist Greg Brown had just left to join Deathray, and
various session guitarists filled in for him on electric guitar:
Tyler Pope (of !!!)
became a permanent member, and remains CAKE's second (primarily
electric, as opposed to McCrea's acoustic) guitarist at the time of
writing. Pope, Campilongo and Prophet also did arrangements for the
album, as did Greg Brown. Other guest instrumentalists were Mark
Needham (percussion), David Palmer (keyboards) and Greg Vincent (pedal
steel). Prolonging the Magic was produced by McCrea and mixed
by Needham, Craig Long and Kirt Shearer. The album was apparently
mastered by a Don C. Tyler, who may well be the same person as 'Don C.
Taylor' who mastered CE. The engineers were Jay Bowman,
Joe Johnston, Craig Long, Scott Reams, Rafael Serrano, Kirt Shearer and
Gabriel Shepard. Design was by McCrea and Keara Fallon.
Track by Track - an overly thorough and highly subjective analysis (italics denote single releases)
1. Satan is my Motor (McCrea/Pope/Nelson) - 3:12
agree with fellow CAKE fan SyntaxVorlon about this song describing a
secret malevolent intent towards a woman. Here the allegory is of a
car is used to describe different components of the protagonist's
personality ("I've got a mind that can steer me to your house/and a
heart that can bring you red flowers/My intentions are good, and
earnest, and true/but under my hood is internal combustion power/and
Satan is my motor..."). The most obvious interpretation is that the
Satan here is lust, which establishes something of a theme for the
album - sin and a certain amount of self-loathing.
of this song led to the album being given a parental advisory sticker
- a 'clean' edition was issued with the song title changed to just
'Motor'. Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't censor the title as well,
given the insidious effect of witchcraft on the
foundations of decent, wholesome Christian society.
2. Mexico - 3:26
farewell by someone leaving the country for Mexico. Self-loathing
much in evidence here, as McCrea expounds on his failure to live up to
the vivacity and passion of the girl he left behind ("I was bright but
she was much brighter/I was high but she was the sky/Oh baby, I was
bound for Mexico"). Aptly enough, there's a mariachi sound to the the
trumpet line between the verses.
3. Never There - 2:38
album's first and most successful single is a Latin-influenced ode to
an unsuccessful long-distance relationship, complete with touch-tone
phone noises in the chorus, presumably made by DiFiore on a synth.
McCurdy's lively guitar (I think it's him here, anyway - he's certainly
fantastic when the song's played live) and the funky bass really move
things along, and DiFiore's synth-backed trumpet solo is fantastic,
particularly as it's followed by a rap-like moment from McCrea ("A
golden bird that flies away/A candle's fickle flame/To think I held you
yesterday/Your love was just a game").
The video, directed by
McCrea, is arguably the most conventional the band have yet produced.
It features CAKE playing the song in a country and Western bar, with
couples dancing to it. This is intercut with sequences of McCrea as a
trucker (with the pig from the album cover on the side of his truck)
desperately trying to call his faraway girlfriend (who is shown by a
pool with other men and ignoring all phone calls). Eventually McCrea
hires a PI, who catches and photographs her cheating.
elsewhere: Friends - The One Where Rachel Smokes and the film
Shallow Hal. Also, this song, along with instrumental versions of
Open Book from Fashion Nugget and several other songs from PtM,
was used in the film Sidewalks of New York.
4. Guitar - 3:40
"If I threw my guitar/out the window/so far down/would I/start to regret it/or would I smile/and watch it slowly fall?"
have written a number of songs which criticise the music industry,
particularly on Comfort Eagle, as well as of course Rock'n'Roll
Lifestyle. To me this one is fairly clearly about frustration with the
industry, as McCrea waits in someone's flat, ignores their phone calls
and contemplates throwing his guitar from a high window, hurt by their
dismissive treatment of him. It seems possible Guitar was inspired by
dissatisfaction with the experience of being a band with a successful single, and it anticipates the move to a bigger
label for their next album.
recent interview, he admitted he had
considered quitting the band to be a farmer (he'd be in good company...).
5. You Turn the Screws - 4:13
of the more interesting and typically CAKE-ish songs on here, You Turn
the Screws is a commentary on the corrupting nature of power,
particularly as one matures. A jazzy piano/trumpet intro gives way to a
minor-key bass/guitar melody. McCrea, in a suitably 1990s way, seems
particularly concerned with the corruption of cultural ideals - "You
turn the screws, you burn down the bridge/flimsy as it is, it's
justified./You shake my hand, you break up the band, flimsy as it is,
it's natural punk rock/Red, white and blue.../You turn the screws".
Given the reference to 'punk rock' and the music-industry themes
mentioned above, it seems likely that the song is at least partly aimed
at record company executives (as with Comfort Eagle).
final accusation - "how can you say you'll be happy when you turn the
screws?" suggests the angry, self-righteous protagonist could one day
fall victim to the forces of conformity, a bit like the righteous
punk in Clampdown by The Clash.
Usage elsewhere: instrumental version in Sidewalks of New York, beginning occasionally used as a buffer on NPR.
6. Walk On By - 3:45
Tom Moon pointed out in his review for Rolling Stone, this is fairly
clearly modelled after a country weeper. It bears no relation to the
Burt Bacharach song of the same name, though it covers many of the
same themes (as with Jolene on Motorcade of Generosity, which is
not a Dolly Parton cover).
7. Sheep Go To Heaven - 4:44
The album's final single takes its refrain from Matthew 25:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the
holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate
them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed
of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation
of the world:
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart
from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and
The song seems to be written at least partly from the view of a satyr
and to favour being a goat rather than a sheep ("I just want to play on
my panpipes/I just want to drink me some wine./As soon as you're born
you start dying/so you might as well have a good time"). "The carpenter
can take you out to lunch" is thought at the other place to
refer to Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, where the
carpenter represents Christianity, who invites oysters (followers) to
lunch only to devour them.
also a quote from Waiting for Godot in the line "and the gravedigger
puts on the forceps", which is arguably advancing
video, directed by Mark Kornweibel (who also directed those for
Jolene and Rock'n'Roll Lifestyle), is rendered in a South
Park-style animation technique. SPOILERS AHEAD: It shows employees of
a greeting card company writing the greetings. One disgruntled man
has to stay behind alone. The un-KISS-like CAKE are shown as a KISS
tribute band playing in a busy bar filled with various groups modern
(frat boys, jocks, goths) and ancient (Vikings and Romans),
and everyone's having a good time when the angry greeting card guy
turns up with a machete. During the bridge, he massacres everyone in
there, sending their souls up to heaven. The killer is caught by the
police (his lone companion, a poodle, dies in his flat). Meanwhile
CAKE ascend to heaven to meet the others (an angel drops McCrea's
trademark fisherman hat on his head). The killer is tried, convicted
and executed by electric chair. His soul falls to hell, where he
looks nervously around as everyone else parties it up in heaven.
elsewhere: instrumental version in Sidewalks of New York. Also features
in an episode of Daria (of course!), which has used various CAKE
8. When You Sleep - 3:58
McCrea asks a string of questions about where someone's fingers go
in this fairly low-key track. Partly seems to suggest that someone's
personality can be gauged from tiny unconscious gestures, though there
are also undertones of something else.
Usage elsewhere: instrumental version in Sidewalks of New York, and, as with You Turn the Screws, on NPR.
9. Hem of Your Garment (McCrea/DiFiore) - 3:43
bassline drives this self-loathing lament, with a chorus and title
derived from another religious source - the gospel song Touch the
Hem of his Garment, itself based on references in the Bible to
fringed garments with tassels (Tzitzit). Jesus' garment is
referred to in several places as having healing properties, including
in Matthew 9:
20 And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of
blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
21 For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be
of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made
whole from that hour.
However, the protagonist is "intrinsically no good/I have a heart
that's made of wood/and I am only biding time/Only reciting memorised
lines/And I'm not fit to touch the hem of your garment...". He sees
himself as heartless and cold, unworthy of the addressee's attention
even if it will redeem him.
Usage elsewhere: The film Me, Myself and Irene.
10. Alpha Beta Parking Lot - 3:30
with this, Satan is My Motor, Carbon Monoxide and Wheels on
Pressure Chief, Stickshifts and Safetybelts on Fashion Nugget
and Race Car Ya-Yas on Motorcade of Generosity (and that title
itself, of course), there are automotive themes and references
everywhere in CAKE's oeuvre. Probably the best comparison, though, is
to Long Line of Cars on Comfort Eagle, as both derive a degree of
pathos from the tedium and pollution of their settings - where Long
Line of Cars describes a relationship beginning to crack in the context
of a traffic jam, Alpha Beta Parking Lot describes being dumped in a
The 'Alpha Beta' thing had me stumped for a while. At first I
thought it was some sort of allegorical thing about the confines of
language, but it turns out to be a Couplandian
consumerist reference. Alpha Beta was a chain of American grocery
stores/supermarkets, which used the name from 1917 to 1988 - more
Sources and Further Reading
11. Let Me Go (McCrea/Campilongo) - 3:56
upbeat love song, with a certain degree of innocence. The protagonist
sees his beloved in terms of her less obvious qualities ("When she
talks she moves her mouth, instead of her lips"), but she seems to find
him likeable but perhaps a little clingy ("Let me go, and I will want
The spoken French in the background towards the end
of the song is difficult to make out, but I'm not sure that necessarily
12. Cool Blue Reason - 3:27
The darkest song
on the record, especially coming right after Let Me Go. The protagonist
is clearly in deep shit ("Cool blue reason , and as he considers his
situation rationally he realises it's even worse than he previously
thought: "Cool blue reason comes into your life/There's one more dead
in Kansas and it's probably your wife". The song fades out with the
line "only 8 more hours left to go", which in the context seems almost
to be a relief.
13. Where Would I Be? (McCrea/Nelson/Joe Snook) - 3:53
last, redemption. As the protagonist's world collapses around him
("houses are sliding into the mud/rivers are raging in your blood"), he
can still find solace in his beloved, who is almost like God to his
prodigal son. "Where would I be without your arms around me?" asks
McCrea in the final seconds of the record, but it seems like he already
Personally, I think Fashion Nugget, and to some degree
Motorcade, have some shining moments of
biting irony, but are also a little patchy. Prolonging the Magic finds
the band more mature and more melancholy. It's probably their most
serious record, with recurrent ideas of self-loathing, sin and
corruption, finally ending, perhaps, in redemption. When I started this
writeup I felt fairly sure Comfort Eagle was my favourite album, but
as I listened repeatedly to Prolonging the Magic (because I love you
all) I found a lot more in the way of hidden depths.
CAKE official site
Prolonging the Magic at Wikipedia
Rolling Stone review
CAKE at SongMeanings
Prolonging the Magic at SongMeanings
Revue interview with John McCrea, in which he said he was thinking of quitting
James bible - Book of Matthew from the University of Michigan