The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Cage The Elephant – ‘Social Cues’ (RCA / Sony)


In a sentence:

‘Social Cues’ represents a significant revival of artistic fortunes for Matt Shultz and Cage The Elephant.

Kentucky’s Cage The Elephant are an American rock band have kept their mixture of blues, punk, garage and alternative rock going for over a decade at this point, getting mileage out of well-worn influence like such as Pixies, The Hives and Arctic Monkeys, has been captivating to say the least. What transpired on their eponymous debut and Thank You Happy Birthday soon led to the ironically titled Melophobia in 2013. Here, Cage The Elephant finally culminated a unique identity after heavily relying on their influences. After this, the group stopped working with their then producer Jay Joyce and decided to work with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys for their fourth record Tell Me I’m Pretty, which, overall, was an artistic and commercial flop.

Arriving after a brief hiatus and re-think of first principles, the context of their new album Social Cues is centred around lead vocalist Matt Shultz, who is currently experiencing a low and vulnerable point in his life, mostly stemming from his recent divorce from his now ex-wife and actress Juliette Buchs, as well as losing three of his close friends to suicide. The pre-chorus on ‘Ready To Let Go’ describes the couple’s trip to Pompeii where they both realised that their relationship was not going anywhere: “As we slow danced, I became your statue, frozen / Times I wonder are we just a puff of smoke? Yeah / Underneath this bed of ashes, still withholding everything / Like we were never close”. The closing track ‘Goodbye’ represents the aftermath of the break-up where Shultz melancholically sings “How’d I become the thorn in your side? / All your laughter turned into a cry”.

Music video for ‘Ready To Let Go’

The title track, a highlight on this album, and the line “People always say, ‘Man, at least you’re on the radio’” emphasises how unhappy Shultz really is and reinforces the fact that fame does not equal comfort. The intro of this track contains quirky sound effects reminiscent of those found in Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’. The energetic ‘House Of Glass’, consisting of frenetic and coarse guitars, sees Shultz trapped, wanting to get away from his pain and anguish: “Climb into my corner, my self-inflicted coma / Stand up, lay down, repeat in the same order / Fall straight through the floor and let the time”. Then we come to ‘Night Running’ featuring Beck, with whom Cage The Elephant will be touring this summer alongside Spoon and Sunflower Bean). The intro instils a reggae vibe and contains infectious guitar licks. Beck’s vocals are confidently bright, and the line “all night running” is a great hook in the chorus.

Other noteworthy moments on Social Cues including the uproarious album opener ‘Broken Boy’, the nonchalant, vapourwave-esque ‘What I’m Becoming’ and the moment Shultz confronts his demons on ‘Skin And Bones’. By and large, it’s easily one of Cage The Elephant’s best albums so far, arguably not quite as good as Melophobia but certainly signifying a successful re-boot. While some of the music can leave more to be desired, Social Cues makes the listener sympathise with Matt Shultz’s situation as his lyrical communication throughout is spot on.  (7/10) (Harry Beynon)

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