Cake, Fashion Nugget

Something of a debut, and something of the fashion, even though it's actually their second record and noticeably, almost obtusely, sui generis. I like the determined horns, the stripped down but clean guitars and the snide delivery of frontman John McCrea; any album that leads off with a reedy organ and a throwaway Sinatra reference at least earns their audience with sheer oddity. In similar fashion, "The Distance," the album's stand-out single, combines brass, bass and almost beatboxy vocals together into a throwback sound that makes you swear you're right at the racetrack with them. Impressively, the music is matched at intervals by lyrics at least as well constructed (such as "Open Book" and particularly the acerbic "Friend Is a Four-Letter Word"), and the sometimes surprising mix of genres wins points for originality. Unfortunately this otherwise promising album also has a number of significant deficiencies, such as a questionable overreliance on covers (including their infamous F-bomb in the otherwise clever retread of "I Will Survive," provoking Gloria Gaynor's everlasting disdain), useless or inscrutable filler like "Race Car Ya-Yas" and "Daria," and the obnoxious "Nugget" which features profanity without a purpose and attitude without a clue. But the country influence is skillful and unique ("She'll Come Back To Me," the Willie Nelson smirker "Sad Songs and Waltzes") and when the style works it's refreshing, proving that alternative bands don't have to be grungy to be interesting. (Content: F-bombs on "I Will Survive" and "Nugget," sexual themes on "Italian Leather Sofa.")