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Achieving radio success with such a singular blend of mariachi, funk, rock, and hip-hop is weird, but Cake is even stranger than the offbeat sound suggests, set apart from the world of mainstream pop by ironic, deadpan vocals. You just have to listen a little closer to hear what singer John McCrea is getting at: political unease, scathing sarcasm, and a streak of subversive activism.
It's fitting that the band's latest album, Showroom of Compassion, hit number one on the Billboard charts earlier this year with one big asterisk: by moving just 44,000 units upon release, the record marked the lowest-selling number-one release since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991.
The dubious distinction seems to suit the men of Cake. Sporting seven albums spread across almost two decades, Cake is content with taking its time, allowing its music to seep into lives and resonate. It's like the band's name — not a reference to frosted dessert but something caking on your shoes. Something that's gonna stick around for a while.
"I think this is probably the strongest album of ours," says Vince DiFiore, who plays trumpet, keyboard, and percussion for Cake. "Out of our catalog, I think it's my favorite, because it gave us a good understanding of what our process is and what it is to make a good Cake album. It comes down to really good hook-writing and arrangements. It's about everyone not just going along for the ride but striving to bring it to a new level."
The album was recorded in the band's solar-powered studio in Sacramento, California, and it adheres to Cake's all-over-the-map style. Most important, in keeping with the radical spirit of the band, it aims to stir up some shit. Take "Federal Funding March," for instance. After the album's release, Cake rearranged the single for marching bands and issued a national challenge in which school bands recorded themselves performing the song to win $100,000 in band equipment.
"Watching the videos has made my decade," says DiFiore. "The entries are starting to come in right now and they are really blowing us away. I think we're expecting 100 schools."
As for a new album? Well, the band is busy. This weekend's show marks Cake's second stop in Arizona this year.
"We're enjoying touring right now, and I think that John might be writing some songs. But we haven't been back into the studio. We're not a burnout band. We've been together 20 years now, and I think that has a lot to do with pacing."
The band doesn't seem at a loss for song ideas. Their official Facebook page frequently is updated with scathing posts about banksters, health insurance, and Kardashian-as-threat to the sanctity of marriage arguments. Given the Occupy movement, will Cake be able to resist another album of populist gonzo anthems?
Whatever comes next, you can bet it will be on Cake's terms. How's that for having it and eating it too?