Sunday, April 19, 2009

Week 47: "Sheep Go To Heaven" by Cake

It may be surprising that one of my favorite songs is based on one of the least Universalist passages from The Bible (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus tells of separating the sheep from the goats.

Oh well, the Bible passage is far from ideal but the song is great nevertheless. “Sheep Go To Heaven” is a single from Cake’s third album, Prolonging the Magic. Previously, Cake had issued a debut album that went largely unnoticed and a breakthrough second album that featured the catchy racecar-themed single “The Distance” (Video) and an arguably cynical cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive.” (Video)

Although Cake found themselves labeled as an alternative-rock band, they actually defy easy classification. Singer John McCrea’s vocals are delivered in a droll voice that is somewhere between speaking and singing. McCrea also displays a tremendous fondness for the vibraslap which he uses on almost every song. Vince DiFiore accompanies McCrea with the trumpet, synthesizer, and various percussion instruments. Together, the duo is backed up by an interchangeable group consisting of a guitar player, bassist, and drummer whose styles of playing include rock but also pop, funk, and jazz.

If you scour the internet you will find many people offering their own interpretations of “Sheep Go To Heaven.” One of the most common interpretations is that the song is entirely tongue-in-cheek, that it is a comment on the way society rewards conformity and punishes individuality. You can decide for yourself whether you buy this explanation. Although the South Park-esque video for the song arguably supports such an interpretation, I don’t want to go down this road. To me, the lyrics are mostly nonsensical.

Interpretation is not so much fun, because the song is so much fun. How can you deny the attraction of a funk-inspired guitar and bass groove accompanied by a brassy trumpet fanfare? A few years ago I got to see Cake live here in Kansas City at the Uptown Theater. (They’ll be coming through town again to play Crossroads KC on May 2, 2009 if you want to catch them.) “Sheep Go To Heaven,” as this video attests, is also a crowd participation favorite. Troublesome Bible verse. Fantastic song!