I recently wrote up Fashion Nugget
in response to the previously written writeup there, and part of my thesis was that the ideas the entirety of Cake's work show how their work has changed over time. Cake has not simply in musical strength, as any band or group is bound to grow in talent as they practice and continue to challenge themselves.(Except for Nickelback
which is so hackneyed and formulaic that they haven't even recorded new music, they just dub over the one song again and again) The band has also become more emotionally complex while continuing to mix styles with a vibrant sense of experimentation
. This continuing evolution has not changed their focus, which is the male mind, but they have found newer ways to express those ideas. But they also explore topics such as indomitability
and they continue to juxtapose a masculine love of cars with a sense of environmental responsibility. But I am beginning to ramble.
The album starts with a catchy and rhythmic guitar riff in Wheels that brings you into a narrative. It wouldn't surprise some that this is a break-up song, but unlike the adolescent anger of many of the songs in Fashion Nugget, this song is filled with a more complex battery of emotion. The relationship fell apart, whatever may have happened and the singer is running and reveling in his freedom. But at the same time he feels a deep sense of wistfulness and emptiness. On top of the strong melody, the lyrics are well written and manages the metaphors very well. A very good song to start the album, it is filled with energy and complex emotions.
The next song is quite the opposite, it has this energy sucking effect. No Phone is a simple fist-shaking remonstration of how much cell phones have changed the way we talk to people, both compartmentalizing thought and marginalizing meaning. The phone isn't precisely the source of the protagonists grief but it is still wringing him from his rest and strangling his emotions. Musically, No Phone is very interesting and stylistically very different from Wheels. Wheels almost feels like it was written by The Beatles dropped into the 90s, No Phone is electronica mixed with Rock.
Back to breaking up, Take It All Away is a young man with a controlling and emotionally distant girlfriend. Well done but not all too interesting, but the metaphor is interesting, especially as it relates again to cars, which seems to be a major theme in this album. This song describes the girlfriend as a sort of neo-yuppie with an artist boyfriend who is tired of her frigidity. This would not be so distant to their past songs but the ending verse is in a roundabout way defending the relationship, as if the protagonist doesn't really want it to end.
I, for one, remember Harry Truman, nonetheless Dime is a very cute song. It tries to shine brightly in the sun like its subject. An inanimate bit of coinage given a spirit, which will not be tarnished or harmed by relentless vehicles and that spirit will not be broken by the lack of respect it receives. This is that indomitability that Cake likes to play with, some little thing which has no business having confidence but struggles forth regardless of the forces against it.
Carbon Monoxide is a complex song, one that combines the love of fast, luxurious cars and environmental consciousness and sets them together in the same guy walking along a road. He wants be zipping along the road in a Mercedes but he looks up at the haze and laments. And either way he's still sitting there breathing in car exhaust. The melody here is reminiscent of the Beach Boys if they had a synthesizer and cared about carbon footprints.
Next is Cake's cover of Guitar Man, which speaks again to that indomitable spirit. The guitar switches back and forth between electric and acoustic and there are other ways in which the song has been newly interpreted. McCrea does a good job with the vocals on this one.
Waiting is a much darker song, one that looks at life that is both tired and depressed and whose only glimmer of hope is perpetually elusive. Not all that impressive to me. Not a bad song, but not all that impressive, and it serves to change the tone leading into the second half of the album. The next song was actually written for an earlier release but was not included in Prolonging the Magic. She'll Hang the Baskets, evokes a cold and clinging feeling. Another good song, but it feels as empty as the baskets decorating the house.
End of the Movie however is set apart from everything. It is a severe downshift from the rest of the synthesizer music into a style that is very folky and old timey. It also contains the kernel of that indomitable spirit. This song delineates the album, the shift in style is stark but very enjoyable.
The last two songs are low notes, but good. Palm of your hand is a break up song from the outside that is focused a great deal on the ephemeral quality of all human constructions, including relationships. On top of that it is told completely in metaphor, which speaks to the raised quality of the writing. Tougher than it is is yet another refugee from Prolonging the Music. It's sort and finishes the album and talks in large part about the sort of person that was the protagonist in Fashion Nugget. They go about life in a way that only leads to their detriment.
Personally I think the album ends a bit weakly, but comfortably. Overall, however, Pressure Chief is a very enjoyable piece of audio. I may have a little bias as it made me more open to rock music in general, whereas I'd been previously more of a classical person.
When compared to earlier work such as Fashion Nugget however, there is a marked change in the strength of the band's writing and musicianship.