Cage The Elephant’s latest record, “Social Cues,” is the most monotonous album in its discography.
Cage The Elephant made its name by sounding different than other bands in the alternative rock scene. The band’s eponymous debut mixed folk and blues rock to craft a record that was catchy. On “Melophobia,” it created an emotional and poignant record that strayed far from the blues influences it was known for.
“Social Cues” is an amalgamation of the band’s previous two records. The raw emotional impact from “Melophobia” remains, but so does the worst parts of the band’s Grammy-winning effort “Tell Me I’m Pretty.”
“Tell Me I’m Pretty” saw the band’s sound become homogenized, resembling a lot of radio-friendly rock acts at the time. Its latest record continues in that trajectory. No one would bat an eye if instead of Cage The Elephant’s name they saw The Black Keys.
The piano chords on this record are bland and blatant. If the chords were more diversely written, or just mixed appropriately, they would be much better. Too many songs sound similar sonically on this record, so much so that it becomes hard to tell different songs apart.
The vocal effects put onto Matt Shultz are a detriment to the album as well. Shultz has a unique singing voice and style, something the band took advantage of on its first two records to great effect. The more artificial production added to Shultz unorthodox voice on this album, the worse Shultz sounds. This was true on previous records as well, so it is baffling the band continues to mix Shultz this way.
Lyrically, Shultz draws inspiration from his divorce. He doesn’t sprinkle in subtle references to his divorce, it is usually clear when he is venting about the subject on tracks such as “Black Madonna” and “The War is Over.” Shultz seems to use this record to deal with it emotionally.
When the band deviates from the radio-friendly alt-rock style, it works well. Although “Broken Boy” would be better without the vocal effects, it is still a great opening track that brings a lot of energy. Beck makes an appearance on “Night Running,” and in his typical weird fashion, enlisted Shultz to help him sing about vampires. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the record and it is much better than it has any right to be.
The slower and softer tracks tend to be better than the radio centric tracks. The closing track, “Goodbye,” is a somber track where Shultz comes to terms with his relationship running its course. Songs such as “Goodbye” show the band at its best, letting its natural sound help carry the message of the song.
“Social Cues” is a generic alternative rock album that tries to appeal to as many radio stations as possible as opposed to as many fans as possible. Shultz explores the emotional effect his divorce had on him but too often is undercut by the effects added to his vocals. It is a disappointing record from a band who won a Grammy on its previous effort.