“Baby Cakes” appears at least 3 years after UK garage dipped back underground to begin its mutation into grime, and 5 years after “Sweet Like Chocolate” took the sound and blew it into a big sugary hit-bound bubble. Not that a garage track wasn’t welcome, not that “Baby Cakes” wasn’t rather lovely, but it was awkward too. Its unassuming prettiness made it stand out amongst the glossier, more cynical hits of 2004 like a lone and rather confused gazelle, trailing its long-departed herd.

Nothing anticipated it and nothing followed it, either*. The band themselves evaporated almost immediately. They’d recorded “Baby Cakes” on the day two of them met for the first time; a follow-up was mooted but never appeared. 3 Of A Kind are a one-hit wonder by even the most exacting definition; a group, like some 60s Bubblegum confections, brought into being so this song could exist. But those acts were often one in a line of gigs for the session players involved – there’s no evidence any of 3 Of A Kind went on to make any other music at all, and nothing on “Baby Cakes” to suggest they would.

It’s one of those odd, likeable, historian-defying records that some alchemy makes great even though nobody involved has any wider significance or unusual skill. Pop is full of these – from Northern Soul through post-punk to the older, whiter kind of garage. They’re the hard currency of collectors and a store of legends and mysteries for us common or garden nerds. They don’t tend to reach the top of the charts. “Baby Cakes” has an aura of the unlikely about it.**

That’s also part of the record’s charm, though. Listen to “Baby Cakes” side by side with “Sweet Like Chocolate” and despite the 5-year gap it’s the latter that has the deeper, more complex, production. There are signs of time passing in the sound of “Baby Cakes” – that note-bending bass wobble feels more mid-00s than late-90s – but mostly it sounds like what it is: some kids making their first tune. The two rapped verses are similarly unflashy and earnest – short, written and delivered to get the feeling over not to show off lyrically. The guilelessness is what makes the song special – well, that and an instantly hummable hook, the one part of the song a pro wouldn’t overwork. When Eminem sang “You only get one shot”, he was acting; these three are living it, and doing their careful, heartfelt best.

*Or rather, nothing followed it immediately. The basic shape of 3 Of A Kind was replicated years later and to much more success by N’Dubz, and the song has an afterlife too – Pinkpantheress, who’s made her career on the back of a delightful bubblegum garage and D’n’B sound, made a cover of it with Mura Masa and Shygirl in 2022.

**(Writing this the day after Hallowe’en, I’ll cheekily offer a mystical interpretation. As Bob Stanley pointed out in his write-up of this song for a Guardian No.1s special, “Baby Cakes” kept The Libertines’ “Can’t Stand Me Now” from the top, something which caused small but genuine fury among my Radio X listening workmates. Perhaps “Baby Cakes” unlikely appearance was some kind of cosmic revenge for the way the hierophants of indie rock treated UK garage in its heyday, the fulfilment of a curse laid by the Melody Maker “toilet” cover. Well, I’d like to think it was.)

Score: 7

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