This week’s Hidden Gem is a deep cut from 1996 by the relatively obscure band Cake. If you don’t recognize the band, you might recognize one of their most popular songs, I Will Survive. To most people, Cake is a one-hit wonder, which might even give them more pop culture credit than they deserve; however, I’ve recently rediscovered their work and won’t hesitate to say that they are grossly underappreciated. Cake is the perfect combination of humor, experimental musical ideas, and genuinely good instrumentation, all of which are perfectly displayed in their sophomore album Fashion Nugget. Each track on the album is a unique experience with its own personality, but all related by the charming charisma of the band’s aesthetic.
The Distance was my first introduction to the band and immediately became one of my favorite songs. It starts out with an incredible intro: the lead singer gives an intense and understated vocal delivery as a throbbing bass drives the song forward. Then the drums and lead guitar come in, simple yet effective, perfectly accenting the lyrics and atmosphere. There’s an incredible buildup, an awesome drum fill, and then a heavy strumming guitar that is absolutely brutal and driving. Brass accents are sprinkled throughout, giving the song a dramatic and charismatic feeling. The plot of the song is extremely interesting and well-written, with a central character who is racing even after the race is over and therefore “going the distance”. These lyrics summarize the theme of the song the best:
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns
Cause he’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
She’s all alone
In her time of need
These words really resonate with me; I can understand what it’s like to be pursuing something to the ends of the Earth when it’s actually in reach the whole time, but is neglected in the heat of the pursuit. It’s easy to extrapolate these feelings to important things in life, like love, success, and happiness. The theme of the song is incredibly tragic, in that the protagonist aspires to some unreachable, yet noble ideal. It’s easy to think that they’re misguided and over-ambitious, but if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you can recognize and appreciate the narrow-sighted drive to “go the distance”. I think the song is surprisingly interesting to say the least, and the high quality instrumentation and charisma make it a great example of what Cake does well.
There are a lot of other songs off the album that are similarly exciting, with some of my favorites being I Will Survive, Friend Is a Four Letter Word, and Nugget. Each one drips with the same charisma, while also showing off the different aspects of Cake’s musical talent. They dabble in every genre of music with a surprising amount of success, which makes this album a thrill to listen to from start to finish. The entire album is a perfect mix of classic alternative rock and more experimental and odd ideas; none of the songs take themselves too seriously which prevents them from sounding pretentious or overbearing. Overall, Fashion Nugget is the prime example of a hidden gem: it’s underappreciated and overlooked, but full of surprises that make it an incredibly unique piece of art.