Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

DECEMBER 7, 1998: 

Cake, Prolonging The Magic (Capricorn)

Cake – college-radio favorites and ironists supreme – have crafted yet another squirrely collection of tunes in the unique style of their previous two releases, Motorcade Of Generosity and Fashion Nugget.

On the subject of irony and his alleged updated relationship to it, frontman John McCrea (vocals, guitar, lyrics) offers this bit of self-reflection: “I suppose I realized how chickenshit irony really is. I’m not giving up on it entirely – it’s a really good coping mechanism, but it prevents you from having a complete human experience when there’s always a part of you that’s snickering. Irony is something in which you recline – it’s not something you do out of strength.”

Well put. However, one listen to Prolonging The Magic reveals McCrea’s irony habit to be tougher for him to kick than even he seems willing to admit. Which is a good thing. Most artists specialize in certain styles, excel in certain areas – McCrea just happens to do the hell out of irony, the crucial ingredient in the recipe that makes Cake music so … delicious. Where would bands like Cake or They Might Be Giants be without irony?

The instrumental aspects of Cake’s output are at least as irony-infused as are the band’s lyrics. The drums and bass keep things anchored in a fairly traditional manner, but the vocal melodies seem calculated to sound attractively banal, the guitars are cleverly flippant, and the mere presence of Vince Di Fiore’s ubiquitous trumpet within the context of a rather stripped-down rock outfit is in itself somewhat ironic.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eradicate irony,” says McCrea, speaking of future artistic directions, “but I’d like to.” Big mistake. Not to pigeonhole, but such an aspiration flies in the face of a natural and formidable talent. Hey, I grew sick and tired of the hordes of third-rate ironymongers (so celebrated by the directors of pop culture) years ago. But there are times when nothing else will do.

Do we really need a sincere Cake album? When I want sincerity, I’ll turn to Windham Hill. – Stephen Grimstead



P.M. Dawn, Dearest Christian, I’m So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad. (Gee Street/V2)

Four records into a fascinatingly contrarian career, and hip-hop soul duo P.M. Dawn still haven’t covered the Beach Boy’s “In My Room,” which might as well be their theme song. Since their groundbreaking 1991 debut, Of The Heart, Of The Soul and Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience, P.M. Dawn have translated D.A.I.S.Y. Age trippiness and unabashed male sensitivity (usually hip-hop anathema) into musical languages that even the Native Tongues couldn’t speak. But mostly the Cordes brothers, Prince Be and J.C./the Eternal, have crafted hip-hop as bedroom music for mopes. Like the sanctuary from Brian Wilson’s immortal ode to solipsism, J.C./the Eternal’s soundscapes function as a world that Prince Be can go and tell his secrets to, a place to look out on his worries and his fears, a place to do his crying when midnight sighs.

Dearest Christian… finds P.M. Dawn continuing to move away from hip-hop, a musical community that has never accepted them, to the point where the genre seems tangential (at best) to the duo’s musical concerns. J.C./the Eternal downplays beat science here in favor of willowy confections based on piano and guitar, while Prince Be only raps on a couple of tracks. Instead of turntable technicians and rhyme animals, Dearest Christian… finds the duo drawing musical inspiration from Sixties rock/pop. “Art Deco Halos” rides a T.Rex riff as Be sings of the need to “emphasize my pain,” while “Hale-Bopp Regurgitations” deploys melodies and harmony vocals straight from the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. The closing “Untitled” is an eight-minute-plus Abbey Road-style medley of personal pain, with the always dour Be confessing, “I can’t be myself and still be liked.”

The cover art on P.M. Dawn records has always placed the duo in a landscape of their minds’ design – imaginary havens from the reality they rejected from the very beginning. But Dearest Christian… is a little different. Its cover shows Be and J.C. gazing down into an ocean of sorrow while industrial wreckage (a landfill? the aftermath of a bombing?) piles up behind them. The message is clear: They’re engaging reality again, and it’s an ugly sight. Dearest Christian… is meant to be a sort of open letter to Be’s son, an apology for bringing the lad into the cold, cruel world that has oppressed Be from birth. “I had no right to bring you here knowing what I know and feeling the way I feel,” Be sings on “Being So Not For You (I Had No Right).” And on the album’s centerpiece, “I Hate Myself For You,” he compares himself to the original Christian’s human father, Joseph. Should we have expected anything less? – Chris Herrington


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