By Jackson Lee
After a two year silence, the long-running band, Cage The Elephant, released their 5th studio album Social Cues. The album sits comfortably in the band’s general genre of rock, but lacks the intensity and roughness of their previous works. The band was originally known for being a more edgy band, but these elements are rarely seen throughout this album, as it has more of an alternative rock sound. This could be the band members beginning to take it easy, or perhaps the shift of music genres.
The first album released by Cage The Elephant, appropriately titled Cage The Elephant helped make a stake in the music business with their unique, over the top aggressive sounds and lyrics. The theme of this continues to flow into their sophomore album Thank You Happy Birthday. A gritty, vivacious album on it’s own, Thank You Happy Birthday seems to keep the band’s original sound intact and continues to convey this artistic creativity the band was known for. The third album Melophobia (which is the fear of music) seems to slow down the speed the previous two albums built up. Though a slightly more chill album, Melophobia does an excellent job of combining the vicious tunes from the first albums with a more mellow, alt rock feel. If Melophobia was a slow down, Tell Me I’m Pretty is a brake check. Having music that seems to abandon some of the more earlier themes and sounds of previous works, Tell Me I’m Pretty seems to work as a transitional period for the band, and seems like they wanted to move more into the alternative rock genre than their nice, comfy spot in the world of rock. Social Cues only proves that this change was completely intentional. As if the band had come upon a stop sign, the album completely loses the band’s steam that all previous albums had built up. With a more radio friendly sound, Social Cues seems to cater to newer fans, leaving older ones in the dust. It definitely feels like it was intended for this to happen, and it leaves the day ones disappointed, as it doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. It really feels like they’ve traded what they used to be to become more radio friendly.
The album art seems to convey a shift as well. It’s a little more estranged compared to the other cover arts the band has used. It really creates this uncomfortable image, and the music reflects that in a way. The songs featured on the album are much different compared to others, and the themes of each single have a specific topic each one tackles. The cover could be seen as a signal to point out social cues seen in today’s societal norms, or maybe go against them. With a flower in hand, a full body latex suit, a cowboy hat, and some necklaces hanging around the model’s neck, this art was definitely made to grab attention and stick out from the others.
The album starts off with the song “Broken Boy”, which has a main message of sticking or being different from others, with the pre chorus holding lyrics such as
“I was born on the wrong side of the train track,” and “I was raised with a strap across my back”.
The idea of not blending into society can be scary to the vast majority of people, as everyone wants to be accepted, but not everyone is. The songs plays this idea out, sliding it between some slick guitar riffs, and a steady beat from both the drummer and the bassist. The list continues to flow from one song to the other, with Social Cues up next. The song shows the listener to the inside life and desires of a rockstar dealing with their fame. The chorus heavily reflects this with
“Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over, don’t know if can play this part much longer,”
with the verse following this claim including the lyrics of
“Close your eyes, don’t be afraid. Take some of these, they’ll ease the pain. Live fast die young, pay the price, The best die young, immortalized.”
It really reflects the struggles of fame, with overwhelming ideas of stress and anxiety that come with it. The mentioning of a back room could be discussing the back room of a venue, with a member of the band hiding from the crowd of fans, feeling pressured and scared by the mass of people.
The album continues with Black Madonna, Night Running, Skin and Bones, and Ready To Let Go. Out of these four songs, the two most notable would be Night Running and Ready To Let Go. Night Running is a notable song, as it includes vocal of 90s music icon Beck, who lends his voice between verses and choruses, giving the song a change of pace to the others. It also stands out since it’s the second time Cage The Elephant has ever had another artist appear on. It’s general theme is pretty lackluster however, really only dabbling on what seems to be an average late night drive, though the addition of Beck adds a little spice into the mix. Ready To Let Go was originally released as a single, but now can be found on the album. Though it seems like any other song on the album, the lyrics are actually quite depressing.
“Sun went down, Sun went down over Pompeii, on holy grounds our vows were broken. We met up, we broke bread. I was blue, your dress was red, ain’t it strange? We both knew this day was coming.”
The song dwells on the lead singer’s realization that a divorce in his marriage was inevitable. It also uses the events of the volcanic eruption of Pompeii as a metaphor for the devastation of what a crumbling marriage can make people feel.
House of Glass, Love’s The Only Way, The War Is Over, and Dance Dance follow up as the next set of tunes These songs all follow the idea of divorce as well, with them focusing more on the after effects of a broken marriage. House of Glass starts of with an extremely intense, goth vibe, possibly hinting at the lost love. The first verse echoes this theme more with
“Climb into my corner, my self inflicted coma. Stand up, lay down, repeat in the same order.”
“Another mirrored image corrupted and distorted. I’m underwhelmed, uninterested, wonder why I’m over it. “
As previously mentioned, the lead singer Matt Schultz’s divorce is taking a heavy toll on him both physically and mentally. House of Glass is a way for Matt to vent about his true emotional feelings that came with the break up. A “self inflicted coma” could be a way of him saying that he just wants to go away, or forget the events that’ve happened to him.
“Love’s The Only Way” is a transition from the face paced sound of “House of Glass”, and focuses on the idea of how love seems to be the answer to everything. The slow break in the album isn’t a new idea to the band’s discography, and it continues the general idea of separating up the more over the top songs from the more slower, emotional songs.
The album concludes with What I’m Becoming, Tokyo Smoke, and Goodbye. These three songs work together to bring the album to a conclusive end. These songs all have very similar ideas about self improvement, self reflection, having issues with others, and finally the idea of letting go. Goodbye is the culmination of these themes, and is the end all song of the album.
“I wish you well, I want to see you smile. It’s alright, goodbye. Goodbye.”
“How’d I become the thorn in your side? All your laughter turned into a cry. It’s alright, goodbye. Goodbye.”
Goodbye really brings us into the mind of Schultz and his true emotions. He’s lost on how he hurt his ex wife, and he realises that the relationship is over. It’s an extremely deep and meaningful song, and it’s able to stir up emotions in anyone who listens to it with the deep and heartfelt vocals accompanying the rhythm.
Social Cues brings a new set of songs to the genre of alternative rock, but seems to miss the bands louder and more intrusive sounds found in previous records. It’s an extremely emotional album, and the fact that the lead singer got a divorce prior to it’s release explains a lot about the general sounds and themes found within it. It’s comparatively slower and more meaningful than their older works, and the circumstance the album follows truly shares the pain and sorrow found outside of it. Even though it’s made to be slower, it’s still much of a disappointment compared to the others. It’s much more radio/new listener friendly, and to some that can come as a surprise. Overall, the album is definitely a 7/10, with it offering some newer sounds for newer fans, but lacks the classic sound long time fans might be looking for.