Formed in 2006, Cage the Elephant has set a precedence for upbeat rock with very sad lyrics. From “Thank You, Happy Birthday”’s fun rock concert aesthetic, to “Tell Me I’m Pretty”’s alternative pop sound, there is a certain sound that you expect from the Kentucky band. With the April 19 release of their fifth album “Social Cues,” Cage the Elephant has reflected on their signature sadness in a new way.
Starting the album off is “Broken Boy,” a drum-filled dance hall beat. When I hear this song, the synth really stands out. This is no different to the sound of many of their songs, but lead vocalist Matt Shultz’s classic punk voice is still so strong after all these years. The line “tell me why I’m forced to live in this skin/I’m just an alien” seemingly shows how Shultz is uncomfortable in his own body, relating to many people with self-image issues.
One of the most pivotal songs on this album is “Social Cues.” Shultz opens up about the struggle with fame and how you will inevitably get left behind. The idea of the “starry-eyed child” being a written character who is now famous, and them having to choose “their favorite vice,” presumably talking about Shultz’s addiction to methadone and other opiates. It’s no secret that fame has its victims, but he was determined to not be one. Fearing the loss of his creativity, Shultz was hesitant to quit, but once he kicked the habit, he found that he had more ideas than ever.
The album slows down with “Black Madonna” and “Skin and Bone.” Softer rhythms and poetic lyrics do not differentiate them from the remainder of the album; they still have the band’s signature heavy drums and guitar accompanied by the synth. In both songs, Shultz talks about a failed relationship, which makes you think that both songs are potentially about the same situation. Regardless of how good it sounds, these two particular songs drag on.
“Night Running” has a fun dub-reggae beat that both Shultz and featured singer Beck rap and sing as they talk about vampires, which is always fun! “Ready to Let Go” and “House of Glass” are also two prime storytelling songs. “Ready to Let Go” was written using the events that took place at Pompeii as a way to illustrate Shultz’s realization that his longtime relationship with his wife was ending. “House of Glass” describes the mundane and boring repetition in his day to day; the feeling of being constantly trapped within his own life, especially while battling addiction. “The War is Over” also matches Shultz’s theme of fighting his demons and being his own person. He’s done hiding, and he’s going to let you know who he is.
Matching the tone of earlier Cage the Elephant songs about love, “Love’s the Only Way” brings in a beautiful, almost fairytale vibe to this dark album. However, in comparison to the others on this album, this is the one you would skip on the car ride, as it is so slow and drags on. “Dance, Dance” honestly is just boring. The repetition in the song doesn’t help it as much as it hinders it.
Shultz ends the album with “What I’m Becoming” and “Goodbye,” each are amazing sounds about progressing and moving on. Touching on his divorce once again, this time Shultz places the blame on himself and apologizes profusely to his partner. “Goodbye” is an earth-shattering farewell to his wife of seven years, highlighting how he knew the toxicity of their relationship. Production of this song was done in one take, as Shultz could not do it more than that and even recorded it while lying on the floor.
Cage the Elephant has yet to disappoint me with their well thought out and beautifully recorded albums. “Social Cues” is no exception and will live for a long time in the hearts of many thanks to its pivotal and heart-wrenching storytelling through song.