Review of Cake City
Date: Mon 10 Sep 2001 - 11:26:57 PDT
The last time I posted a review here, somebody called my critique "intellectually lazy." So in that spirit, here's a cheap, 20-second analysis of the new 'Cake City.' I apologize for using the hackneyed 'cult status' expression, but, well, what are you gonna do?
Keep in mind this was written for people who don't really know the JBC. Three short paragraphs won't exactly clue in the masses, but hey, the paper only gives me so much space.
The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy
Cake City (Vinyl Japan)
If a rock artist needs a resume to qualify for genuine ‘cult status’ let the Jazz Butcher, aka Pat Fish, and his somewhat interchangeable Conspiracy submit its vast and tangled discography of post-punk sundries, which in addition to ten studio albums now includes NINE full-length compilations. Cake City is the latest of these, put together by Vinyl Japan as a supplement to their reissue of two out-of-print collectibles, 1984’s A Scandal in Bohemia, and 1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk. This triple release should please the many, and apparently well-heeled, fans who scour eBay for the latest find.
Most of Cake City’s 19 cuts are retreads not only from earlier albums, but from previous compilations as well — an inevitable problem, perhaps, when the number of comps nearly outnumbers the originals. (I can now find "The Human Jungle" on no fewer than seven different dis***) And the chosen songs seem an arbitrary lot, offering hit-or-miss insight into why, exactly, the Butcher’s quirky chords earn triple-digit bids and a following unlike anything since the Velvet Underground. But redundancy notwithstanding, Cake is kind enough to include gems like ‘Soul Happy Hour,’ the wonderfully idiosynchratic ‘Water,’ and ‘Big Old Wind,’ an acoustic, sweet-and-sour masterpiece that ought to stand as the Butcher’s finest moment. And just when you thought the Modern Lovers’ ‘Roadrunner’ has been covered to the point of no return, check out its punky virility THIS time around . (And surely it’s a pleasure for we Bostonians to hear Fish, rather than, say, Joan Jett, singing about Needham and Route 128.) There’s further tribute to Richman with a version of ‘Affection,’ while Reed and the Velvets are toasted with ‘Over You,’ and yet another turn at ‘Sweet Jane,’ the latter in a muddy, half-assed cover that will seduce long-time fans but probably bore everyone else.
The same can be said, maybe, for the album as a whole, which falls far short of the brilliant rekindling of 1996’s Draining the Glass, perhaps the only definitive compilation of the nine thus far. Find it if you can, or else wait patiently for the next one.
- Patrick Smith, 2001