Release Date: Apr 19, 2019
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock
After a three-and-a-half-year gap, Cage The Elephant's fifth studio album Social Cues is another twist in an interestingly varied career. Like some other recent famous American bands, they took off in the UK before the US with their self-named debut album ten years ago, while the follow-up Thank You, Happy Birthday reached Number 2 on the Billboard charts. Though they then signed with major label RCA their mainstream success has somewhat receded, but they have remained a big noise on the alt-rock scene.
Cage The Elephant have been on an upward trajectory since their self-titled debut dropped in 2009, leaving a trail of alternative rock hits along the way. Ten years and four studio albums later, the Nashville-based six-piece shows no signs of slowing down. In fact Social Cues continues the skyward trend with a power-packed collection of raucous rhythms, bouncy beats, and rough riffs delivered with an emotional intensity akin to Cherry Glazerr, Wolf Alice, and The Kills.
Having spent their glittering career dancing through different sounds, Cage The Elephant truly find themselves on this mature, widescreen fifth album Never an easy band to pin down, Cage The Elephant have danced between grunge, blues and arena rock before the more mature depth and diversity of last album ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’ saw them take home a Grammy. In the wake of a divorce and in more exploratory mood than ever, can CTE’s Matt Shultz finally lead the band to what they really are? Opener 'Broken Boy' blows the album wide open with a Bowie-esque blast of space-glam, fuelled by a very modern skittering paranoia, before the title track lets a little more oxygen back in the room with some psychedelic theatre akin to MGMT. "I'll be in the backroom, tell me when it's over," sings Shultz, "I don't know if I can play this part much longer".
Considering how Cage the Elephant brought home the Best Rock Album Grammy for Tell Me I'm Pretty in 2017, it's a bit startling that its successor, Social Cues, abandons the rough-and-tumble aesthetic producer Dan Auerbach brought to the band. Auerbach helped Cage the Elephant emphasize the bash-around garage elements lurking within their music, a sensibility that is absent on Social Cues. CTE work with producer John Hill, who previously helmed albums by Florence + the Machine, for this 2019 album, but a better touchstone for what they're attempting to achieve is Beck, who appears on the single "Night Running" and joined the group on a co-headlining tour in support of the album.
The Lowdown: Alt-rock megastars Cage the Elephant have done a lot since the release of their self-titled debut in 2008. They've traversed a wide gamut of genres, ranging from the unvarnished blues rock of their debut to the Pixies-esque alternative of Thank You, Happy Birthday and the haunting eccentricity of Melophobia. They've even achieved festival-headliner status in the time since 2015's Tell Me I'm Pretty, but what often follows headliner status is a bland array of Coachella-ready tunes.
With a Grammy under their belt for their last album, Tell Me I'm Pretty, and a host of commercial achievements also to their name, the Kentucky band have, over the course of four albums, steadily achieved an impressive degree of notoriety. It was on their third record, 2013's Melophobia, that they were at their most consistent, borrowing from the same indie/grunge/punk sources as on previous material, though presenting it in a tighter and punchier format. Cage the Elephant have never been groundbreaking purveyors of new territory, though they have proven themselves capable of reworking classic formats into exciting and memorable rock music.