Cake – Jolene

Motorcade of Generosity
Year :
Soul Coughing / Devo / Ben Folds

I want to tell you about Cake and I’ll get to that in a moment, but let’s take a few minutes to appreciate this song, shall we? Like most fans outside of Sacramento, I first came to Cake by way of “The Distance” their best-known track from the sophomore album Fashion Nugget. It wasn’t until a few years later that I picked up* a copy of their first album, Motorcade of Generosity, and discovered one of my favorite Cake tracks. The flat acoustic guitar chords, the trumpet and lead guitar dancing with each other, a sneaky-fun bass line, and John McCrea’s semi-spoken delivery of odd but affecting lyrics, “Jolene” has all of the qualities that define Cake’s sound, before giving way to one of the most fun musical breakdowns you’re likely to ever hear. It’s a highly enjoyable 5+ minutes. Now, about Cake…

Cake is the greatest band of our time.

Obviously, this needs some explanation.

From 1994-2011, Cake released six full-length albums (not counting B-Sides and Rarities, as it doesn’t really have any impact on my theory one way or the other). Over those six albums, I would argue that Cake has remained remarkably consistent, always making albums that sound like a Cake album, yet always making something that is distinct from what came before it. And while I may have my favorites and least favorites, they have never made an album that I would consider disappointing.

Certainly, there are other ways to judge whether or not a band is great. A number of my favorite artists/bands, at some point in their career, stopped making the music that got them where they were, and started making the music they wanted to make, and they are better for it. I want the musicians I follow to be able take chances like that, but I can’t fault a band who, by all accounts, has always been making the kind of music they wanted to make.

Now, you may not like Cake in the first place, in which case, nothing I’ve said will mean anything to you. But, if you look simply at what modern rock bands are “supposed” to do (keep their sound intact while remaining interesting and consistently listenable), I would argue that no one has been better than Cake.

(It was so hard for me to resist writing “Cake takes the cake” to end this.)

*This was one of my favorite album purchasing experiences of my life. I was in high school at the time, and was supposed to be going on an all day field trip that day. The high school band (you can’t really be that surprised that I was in the school band) had a meeting that morning that was somewhat last minute and ran past the time when I was supposed to be on the bus for said field trip. Not being on the best of terms with the teacher overseeing this trip, I didn’t leave the meeting early, and she didn’t wait for me, which left me with a day full of classes I was not expected to be present for. As such, I walked to a local record store about 2 miles away, bought Cake’s Motorcade and Primus’ The Brown Album, had lunch at Taco Bell, and walked back before the end of the school day. It was a superb day.

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Matthew Belair (@14Belair42) grew up on the classic rock of his parents and the 90s alt-rock of his older sister before discovering other genres to love, all of which are cool, hip, and in no way embarrassing to admit publicly.

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