PRESSURE CHIEF

Cake

Because the key ingredient in Cake is smug irony, logic dictates retaliation with horrific puns. So, painful cringes intended, Cake sounds baked. On the band's fifth album, human sleeping pill John McCrea is sardonic, lethargic and, quite possibly, crooning from a La-Z-Boy recliner. Despite a few dabs of creative frosting -- the group recorded in a home studio -- the Cake formula remains unchanged: Wry, detached narratives from the Steven Wright of pop singers, minimalist guitar riffs, robot-cool rhythms . . . oh, and some wallflower in the corner bleating on a trumpet every 10 seconds.

The recipe was refreshing when Cake appeared in 1996 with a unique Top 40 hit, "The Distance." Now it tastes more like a time-capsuled Twinkie. What's amazing is that this post-alternative rock quartet still has the endurance to milk the hipster-concert circuit.

Cake has evolved, marginally. "Take It All Away" slinks atop a slick synth line, while other tracks sound like they've been influenced by the Cars or Betty Crocker. "Guitar Man" is Cake covering Bread. (Ah, the delicious irony!) But "Tougher Than It Is" or "No Phone" (the first single) could have been funneled from any other Cake album. And the repetitive "She'll Hang the Baskets" is bland -- a problem that occurs when lyrics are slice-of-life meaningless for the sake of esoteric coolness.

Still, why pan Cake? These guys land a hit on every platinum album, and the opening track "Wheels" is the meal ticket here: It sounds like any other Cake tune, but with McCrea deadpanning about "muscular cyborg German dudes." Amusing, even if you're a jaded Cake pounder. So give the Sacramento quartet credit: By successfully writing the same tune over and over, Cake is having itself and, well . . . you know the rest.

-- Michael Deeds