BY ELLAH FOSTER
With four previous studio albums under their belt, American rock band Cage the Elephant has cemented themselves as mainstays in the alternative genre, headlining big festivals like Coachella and selling out tours. Unfortunately, it seems as though the band has gotten a little too comfortable in “Social Cues.”
Cage the Elephant have proven themselves time and time again with well-known hits such as the melodic “Cigarette Daydreams” or the narrative tale of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Each album seems to be a mix of old tricks and new sounds—but the newest falls flat.
Thematically, the album is centered on the divorce between the lead singer Matt Shultz and his wife. While much of the band’s music is dark and twisted, such as “Teeth” or “Sweetie Little Jean” from previous records, they had been yet to touch on such a somber and realistic topic. While the beautiful message of surviving rough times does shine through, depth is lost in repetitive lyrics and melodic similarity.
With a long instrumental introduction filled with synthetic ringing and a heavy beat, the opening song “Broken Boy” is consistent until vocals come into play. With a distorted overlay on Shultz’s voice, it comes across as dramatically predictable. Peculiar inflections, mispronunciations and a long drawl don’t cut it for this track, leaving it as a rough beginning to the album.
While “Social Cues” is achingly similar to their old albums, that isn’t the real issue. Instead, it’s that the risks the band did take weren’t big enough leaps. “Social Cues” just feels like a lesser version of “Melophobia” or “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” sans the head-banging songs and air-guitar-worthy solos.
Cage the Elephant doesn’t spare the melancholic lyrics in “Social Cues,” just the catchy tunes to go with it. Otherwise, the songs are just more enjoyable to read as poetry. Most of the tracks begin powerfully and with brash rhythms, but taper out by the time the first vocals begin. The title track “Social Cues” opens up with a Glass Animals feel of synthetic sounds mixed with a strong drum beat.
Unfortunately, as the tune continues, Shultz just repeats the same lines of “Hide me in the backroom, tell me when it’s over / Don’t know if I can play this part much longer” almost 10 times. While it holds a despairing and worthwhile message of reaching fame and still being unhappy, “Social Cues” comes off bland when put into a song.
The lyrics of the last track, “Goodbye,” leave listeners with a bittersweet farewell. Monotone vocals accompany a simple piano while Cage the Elephant sings “holding on too tight but in the end it made me paralyzed” and bids Shultz’s ex-wife “goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” Remnants of a past love leave fans with a twinge of heartbreak that listeners are sure to relate to.
With a thin silver lining of coming-to-age and moving on to better things, the lyrics of the album are deep and sorrowful. On the musical side, Shultz throws in the same feeling in every song: indifference. It doesn’t feel like he is trying to get his fans to dance along or teach them a valuable life lesson. With such a strong lyrical grasp, it is sad to see this album fall through Cage the Elephant’s hands.