The Good: Lyrics, Vocals, Overall feel of album
The Bad: Short, One or two lackluster tracks.
The Basics: Cake And Pie is another successful outing by Lisa Loeb that could make my regular readers believe I've gone soft on my standards (but I haven't!).
In my case, I would hope that if reputation were to reflect reality, my reputation would be one for generally balanced reviews along the rating spectrum. My body of work is generally balanced and by a sizable number, most of my reviews are 5/10 reviews because of my basic philosophy that most experiences ought to fall around the average. The reason I am bringing this up now is that I've hit a patch of reviews across the spectrum of things I review that have been overwhelmingly positive all of a sudden. I've been reviewing amazing episodes of The X-Files, Jelly Belly jelly beans, and the music of Lisa Loeb. And Loeb has been surprising me with consistently good albums (some of which I have reviewed, but not yet posted). With her album Cake And Pie, Lisa Loeb continues that tradition of decent albums, resulting in yet another one I would (at worst) recommend.
With only a dozen songs, clocking in at 44:41, Cake And Pie is another Lisa Loeb album that manages to defy (quite well) the perception listeners might have of Lisa Loeb as a pop-rock singer. On Cake And Pie, Loeb rocks far more often than she pops and the tracks have more of an electric guitar feel and sound to them than acoustic, which defined the two albums she released prior to this one. Cake And Pie is also notable in that it is the album least represented on The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb, which is unfortunate, because there are several tracks on this album that could hold their own with the best tracks on other Loeb albums.
Lisa Loeb is integral to the creation of the music on Cake And Pie. She co-wrote or wrote all of the songs on the album. As well, she plays guitar on most of the tracks and provides lead vocals as well as some of her own harmony vocals. In other words, it is hard to argue that this is not Loeb's musical vision.
The songs on Cake And Pie tend to be more produced than any other Lisa Loeb songs. So, for example, even the near-acoustic "Drops Me Down" has keyboards that augment Loeb's vocals and accent the loneliness of the lyrics. Whereas prior albums might have let the track be an actual acoustic performance, this album experiments with filling the album out with sound. the result is a number of songs that sound more fleshed out than one might expect from Lisa Loeb.
As well, the instrumentals on Cake And Pie tend to be richer, certainly than Loeb's radio hits. Songs like "We Could Still Belong Together," "The Way It Really Is," and "Bring Me Up" utilize electric guitars to accent the energy and occasional anger of the lines that Loeb is singing.
On the lyric front, Cake And Pie is another Lisa Loeb album that derives much of its strength from the poetics of the lyrics. The lyrics change up between story songs in a more folk tradition (like "Kick Start") to raw emotive poems, like "The Way It Really Is." On that song, Loeb delivers a number of punchy lines that leap out, like "You said: / 'You're crazy, why do you keep doing this? / Everything is fine.' / Then I think, I'm crazy / I do this all the time / Until I start to think that nothing's even wrong / Maybe I am / Hiding in my own confusion / Maybe we're just / A picture in my head / Maybe what if it could be / The way I wish it really was / Maybe I don't wanna see it / The way it really is" ("The Way It Really Is"). Part of the strength of the song is how Loeb does not rely on typical and obvious rhymes, concentrating instead on the meanings of what she wants to sing about as opposed to composing around a rhyme scheme.
Even when "The Way It Really Is" becomes repetitive with the chorus, Loeb manages to pull it off (and those who read my music reviews know that's saying something as I loathe over-repetition!). She chooses just the right words on this album to accent and even the closing to "You Don't Know Me" does not annoy me with its repetition.
Loeb also goes thematically more edgy than she has been on Cake And Pie, at least with the lyrics. Instead of moping through the breakups, as she does on some of her other albums, here she expresses some of the discord that breaks couples up. On "We Could Still Belong Together," she opens with the angsty lines "If I hold my breath / If I shut my eyes / If I disappear / Just for the afternoon / If I can't help shouting / If I lock you out / If it's not important / Completely unimportant / To anyone else but me." This represents a fairly new frontier for Loeb and it turns out she is equally adept at expressing dissatisfaction in relationships with loss afterward. In fact, "Payback" reads like a laundry list of a wronged lover not to reconcile with a former love interest!
Perhaps lyrically, the most compelling track might be the album closer, "She's Falling Apart." On that song, Loeb sings a story-song about a young woman whose life is fracturing and she combines it with remarkably universal lines that make the song bigger than it might initially sound. When she sings "They pull up their chairs to the table / She stares at the food on her plate / At the toast and the butter / Her father, her mother, she pushes away / And they rise in the morning / And they sleep in the dark / And even though nobody's looking / She's falling apart / She gets home from school too early / And closes the door to her room / There's nothing inside her / She's weak and she's tired of feeling like this" ("She's Falling Apart"), it's hard to not relate and empathize with that awkward coming-of-age time in life. Loeb has the power to articulate well some of the more primal and problematic aspects of young adulthood and make adults care about such things again.
Generally, the album puts Loeb in the lower range of her vocal abilities, so most of the vocals are more alto than sugary soprano. This lends itself well to the themes on Cake And Pie as it's hard to be angsty with soprano vocals and electric guitars, at least when presenting faster tracks. Loeb manages the vocals well.
In fact, the only song that instantly struck a discord with me in terms of quality was "Too Fast Driving." On that song, Loeb sounds like she might be attempting to be Liz Phair or Sheryl Crow and the track has a somewhat banal pop sound to it that does not fit the rest of the album.
For sure, Cake And Pie is not Loeb's best musical outing, but it is also underrated, making the listener wonder just what the record label (which dropped her after this album flopped) was looking for when they released this one. Anyone who likes women who rock and who are able to translate folk-rock storysong sensibilities to rock and roll instrumentals will likely find something on this album to enjoy. And if this is truly the worst Loeb's got, it still makes one wonder how it is she isn't far more commercially successful.
The best track is "The Way It Really Is," the low point is "Too Fast Driving."
For other works by Lisa Loeb, check out my reviews of:
Catch The Moon with Elizabeth Mitchell
The Way It Really Is
The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb
For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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