Cage the Elephant Are at Their Most Commercial on ‘Social Cues’
Cage the Elephant is a band that demands attention. Their music shifts between disparate styles with elegance, and a rare ability to be incredibly accessible. Their latest album “Social Cues” is perhaps the most convincing manifestation of just that.
The album begins with “Broken Boy” which has a sound appealing because of its ubiquity. Take alternative rock radio over the last twenty years, condense it into a streamlined, well-executed track and that’s what you have. It screams standard American rock in a very striking way, which is funny considering that the next track “Social Cues” starts off sounding slightly brit pop. It makes sense, as the band lived partly in London, and it shows the band’s versatility, in a snappy, quick track. The versatility only gets more noticeable on “Black Madonna,” a slice of ready pop in which singer Matt Shultz shifts his vocal style in a way that’s a mark of a real singer.
“Night Running” is an immediately relatable song for anyone with a touch of rock ‘n roll spirit. There’s also a soulful element, but in a diluted form with a very commercial rock sheen that recalls certain songs by the Killers. Come “Skin and Bones,” things have got pretty seriously pop, almost to the level of Imagine Dragons. The band pulls it off well, although their hooks are arguably not the most readily effective. “Ready to Let Go” is a relationship song that achieves much of its resonance from specific details in the lyrics that are simplistic, yet just perfect in how relatable they are. “House of Glass” sounds a bit like hurried songcraft, with a chorus that seems to drop far too fast, and lyrics that sound frankly childish. On the other hand, the band is doing what they do just right.
“Love’s the Only Way” is a refreshing change of pace, starting with swelling, cinematic strings, and with Shultz tapping into a yet unprecedented emotional reservoir with his voice tone and delivery. It gets a bit Disney in its sentimality, which is equal parts silly and charming. “The War Is Over” has a flash of slight poetic brilliance with the lyric “One day you will find love was on both sides.” The title is a bit misleading — no John Lennon fare here. It’s meant figuratively, and ends up just as effective.
On “Dance Dance,” the band gets appropriately funky, considering the title. There’s a moment singing “Dance Dance Dance” that will surely make for a highlight of a live show. On “What I’m Becoming,” the band suddenly shifts shapes from clever commercial enterprise to tender and reflective, although still in a very childlike way. Lyrics like “I’m so sorry honey” can strike as a bit lazy in their seemingly uncreative simplicity, but on the other hand, the straightforwardness has a charm to it.
Things take a classic rock turn on “Tokyo Smoke,” and it’s an impressive display of the versatility of this band. This might be the best example yet of the group truly shining, as there’s a fluidity and instinct that makes its way through the music to a very compelling result. “Goodbye” is expectedly another sentimental number. You can naturally project that it’s an aftermath of “Ready to Let Go.”
Overall, “Social Cues” will surely be an enjoying album for anyone who just likes contemporary rock music, without any indie pretensions. It might not be the most catchy, but it makes up for that with how gracefully it shifts gears, and channels widespread musical signifiers in a way that’s both engaging and immediate.
“Social Cues” is available April 19 on Apple Music.