There seems to be two very distinct camps on this band (discounting the third whose response is 'who?') there are those who rabidly love them and those who seem to think "Really? They're the most personality-less band ever." I generally pitch my tent in the first camp - but, like the Pixies, seeing them in concert was a big let-down.
John McRea has precisely four bits of stage business. And as he uses an average of two of them in the course of each song, they get old real quick-like. It was the first and only time I ever had front row tickets, and as much as that was cool, it wasn't enough to elevate the rather tepid performance to anything remotely approximating inspiring.
So how, in the light of that, does Cake rise above the chaff to earn a place amongst my all-time favourite bands? Pure quirk. What some see as a lack of personality comes across as entirely the opposite to those of us who are true believers? It seems so. Their sound is so distinctive. John McRea's detached sounding vocals, Vincent DiFiore's trumpet... even the revolving door of lead guitarists (actually there aren't anywhere the number of lead guitarists that there have been either bassists or drummers) find a unified sound somewhere in the middle of their audio palette. Cake songs sound like Cake songs, but they breadth of their style extends from country to disco to hard rock. It may be that Cake are too cool for their own good and their sense of hip comes across as smug aloofness... and I suppose I can see how that might be off-putting.
I'll admit that it's tough to defend Cake on any specific basis. I figure you either love 'em or you don't. If they've accomplished nothing else in this world, their irony dripping cover version made it acceptable for straight guys to sing "I Will Survive." The fact that their song "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" is the theme song for the hit geek-chic spy-comedy-adventure "Chuck" is testament to their arrival in the eschelons of the eternally cool.