Simply put, Cake Like, a three-piece out of New York, suffer from
Kim Gordon syndrome.
Kerri Kenney tries to stretch her low, atonally growly voice to
perform Sonic Youth's Gordon-like tricks but lacks the attitude and
passion behind the vocal. As a result, lyrics such as "where's my
Latin lover?" just don't have the punch of Gordon's emotionally
Cake Like's second full-length outing, Bruiser Queen, is the
follow-up to their critically acclaimed 1993 debut disc
Delicious. And while all the charm of their debut is not lost,
the quirky songs and sounds of their sophomore album come off
as more annoying than intriguing.
The hype surrounding the band is the all-too-typical "story of a girl
band." Three giddy and pretty friends decide to form a band. To
hell with learning their instruments, these girls wanna rock.
They're sick to death of listening to their musician boyfriends talk
about their bands. So they plug in and turn up the volume
themselves, hoping to drown the guys out. Luckily for them they
live in New York, and already have desirable day jobs, as fashion
designers, working actresses and token MTV funny girls.
So, anyway, they play around town, quickly get signed to a record
label out of Japan, pound out an album of tunes, and are back in
their New York lofts before you can say, "Why can't I be so lucky?"
Their debut cover-art features three wide-eyed, scantily clad,
anemic-looking nymphets, that Nina Hellman, guitarist and backup
vocalist for Cake Like, quipped to Option magazine which
captured the band perfectly, "They're so cute but they can be dirty
too." Right. The first album gets rave reviews and the girls garner a
profile in Rolling Stone -- things are really happening. Now
comes the true test: Can the "Lovely Ladies" (a track title off
Delicious) come through with a second offering that will
continue their relative rise to indie-rock fame? Few of the tracks on
Bruiser Queen seem to support this, and on the whole the
Back to the Sonic Youth comparisons: The verse vocals on "Mr.
Fireman," the third track on the album, sound uncannily like the
Youth's "Panty Lies" off of Washing Machine. Kenney
drawls out the lyrics -- the highlight phrase as she begs the
fireman to come and put out the flames in her apartment ("Where
are you Mr. Fireman, I want you, I need you... I like you, I like you")
is the curt and concise, "Bring your goddamn truck and some
One of the most successful of the few bearable tracks on the
album is the semi-ballad, "Pretty New". Unlike other songs on the
record which make you cringe and dive for the eject button, "Pretty
New" suits Cake Like's tendency to combine Hellman's high
yodelly backing vocals with Kenney's low growl. The melody is
strong and the chorus is memorable, "Not now mother, not now,
Lord not now." Unfortunately, on tracks such as "Groovy,"
Hellman's meows irritate to the breaking point.
The music the members of Cake Like produce is a simplistic but
confident blend of twisted pop and punk. Thinly distorted guitars
and clean bass lines carry the weight of their style with Jody
Seifert's drumming intruding no more than a fancy metronome.
The music seems straightforward, but when you actually sit back
and take a listen, and try and analyze its structure (if that's what
you choose to do) it's actually quite complex, if only because of its
deviance from traditional pop practice.
This all leads the music to be one of the cooler components of the
disc. If you're unfamiliar with the band, it might be worth a listen if
you're interested in alternatives to the verse/chorus/verse mania
that's gripping rock music these days. Cake Like's musical
constructs are far more witty and original than their lyrics claim to
And no review of this album would be complete without mention of
"The American Woman." Sung completely in French except for the
phrase, "He's got the money," it tells the story of a woman with a
"beautiful life" and everything she could want. Now, I think there's
irony here, but my ninth grade French can't quite hack it. Someone
should tell Kenney that when people don't understand things, they
grow cranky and resentful.
Having listened to the album many times and having liberally
expressed my negative opinion of it here, I must now in a moment
of weakness express my particular fondness for track seven,
"Lorraine's Car." What can I say?
It's a poppy winner with extreme single potential. Hellman leads
us in with an upbeat bass line that's so Pixies-esque you almost
expect Frank Black to step in with "Hips like Cinderella..." but then
Kenney pipes up with "wanna go for a ride?" She answers herself,
"I don't want to go on this joyride Lorraine... / I don't think you
understand/ I'm not having such a good time/ I wanna get out."
Then she starts yelling in her best tough-grrl voice, "Stop the car!/
Just let me out at the next 7-11/ I'm going to be sick all over your
pleather/ all over your pleather."
Now there's some Generation-X, pop-culture, '90s-imagery for you
to chew on. Right. That pretty much sums up the Cake Like
experience -- cute and only a little bit dirty from all the vomit.