When Cage the Elephant first burst onto the scene in 2009 with their breakout song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” the world wasn’t ready for their brashy and abrasive garage rock sound that would define their early years. Over time, the band has only grown more popular with hit albums such as 2014’s “Melophobia,” which boasted hit songs like “Come a Little Closer” and “Telescope.” Now on their new album “Social Cues,” the band further explores their signature style and themes on life as a rock star.
Comprised of members Matt Shultz (vocals), Brad Shultz (guitar), Jared Champion (drums), Daniel Tichenor (bass), Nick Bockrath (guitar) and Matthan Minster (guitar), Cage the Elephant has always had a rich and full sound, and this new album is no different. The opening song titled “Broken Boy” throws back to their older, more rock-oriented sound, with punchy drums and bass and frantic guitar lines, but with a slight electronic shimmer to the production. Matt Shultz’s vocals blast out of the speakers on the chorus as he shouts “Broken boy, how does it feel?” Clocking in under three minutes, this track is short but explosive.
The album continues the momentum with the next track, “Social Cues.” This song has a poppier vibe, with scattered lead synth lines and a dance-y, thumping bass line. The lyrics reflect life as a rock star, and how people can’t see past the surface of a rock star life, but “at least you’re on the radio,” Shultz sings in the chorus. Production from John Hill gives this song a bright aesthetic, but the track throws back to the songwriting style of “Melophobia.”
“Black Madonna” is the third track on the album, and from the start, listeners get some hints of Daft Punk in the fuzzed-out and almost electronic-sounding lead guitar line. One of the album’s main lyrical themes revolves around Matt Shultz’s recent divorce, and this song reflects his former wife possibly having an affair. This song continues the dance-y vibe that can be found on “Social Cues.”
While this album has good moments, it is not without flaws. “Night Running” is the next track on the album, and has a feature from none other than Beck. However, this track has more Beck influence than it does Cage the Elephant, and Beck’s flow is kind of awkward and doesn’t fit all that well over this dub-reggae inspired beat.
Another potential flaw in the album comes in the production. This album was produced by Hill, and while it is produced well and sounds pleasing to the ear, some fans might argue that Hill’s production is too poppy, doesn’t allow the true rawness and rock of early Cage the Elephant to be let loose and might actually “cage the elephant.” This album is also not the most lyrically diverse in the band’s catalogue, but Shultz still lets us in on the darker sides of the rock star life and the downfall of his marriage.
However, there are certainly more high points on the album than there are lows. Other highlights on the album include the lead singles “Ready to Let Go” and “House of Glass.” “Ready to Let Go” continues the dance-rock sound that Cage the Elephant has managed to nail over the years, with groovy bass lines and stabbing guitar chords. Also included is the dreamy solo section with a haunting slide guitar solo courtesy of Bockrath. “House is Glass” is reminiscent of the band’s second album “Thank You Happy Birthday,” with ominous guitar and bass lines that pack a punch. The track opens up in the chorus and continues to pound the listener in the ears with the raw sound found on earlier albums.
There are a couple moments on the album where we truly get a look into the emotional side of singer Matt Shultz. Songs like “Love’s the Only Way” and “Goodbye” include luscious string sections and tender vocal performances that really show the listener the pain and hurt caused from Shultz’s divorce. Lyrics reflect the couple trying to make their relationship work, but in the end they have to move on from each other.
“Goodbye” is the last track on the album, and is possibly the saddest Cage the Elephant song in their discography. The song includes the aforementioned string section, along with space-y and distant piano chords, almost making the song feel like a movie score. Shultz reportedly recorded the vocals in one take while lying on the floor, too emotionally distraught to record another take.
Overall, Cage the Elephant have improved from their last album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” (TMIP). This album is almost a complete opposite of TMIP, which was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and was trying hard to sound vintage and bluesy. The poppier production on the album allows for more substance to shine through on most tracks, and brings out this brighter vibe to an album that is at times lyrically dark and other times raw and punk-inspired. If you were a fan of “Melophobia” or even “Thank You Happy Birthday,” there is something for you on the album. Cage the Elephant has come a long way since their debut, and has built up quite an impressive discography, with “Social Cues” now being added to the list.