On their fifth album Social Cues, Cage The Elephant delve into pastures new and old while exploring some of their most personal subject matters to date. Despite this and the obvious moments of class and intrigue, this album feels somewhat laboured and lacking in comparison with their previous efforts.
Cage The Elephant could now be described as seasoned in their musical endeavours; working as an active band for well over a decade and releasing four diverse albums along the way. From the breakout success of Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked off the eponymous debut album to the subtle brilliance of Trouble, a single from the group’s 2015 album Tell Me I’m Pretty, Matt Schulz and co. are never a band that like to keep it simple and structured instrumentally. The same can be said for the new record too.
Social Cues is scattered instrumentally and lyrically bleak, being used as a platform for Schulz to address his personal life over the past few years; from his divorce to the difficulties he has found with shaking off some previous demons. Lead single Ready To Let Go and album finale Goodbye address the separation from his wife in contrasting ways, with the former opting for more post-punk sounds and catchy melodies in comparison to the gut-wrenching piano ballad latter. Both are stellar songs that demonstrate the varied abilities that Cage The Elephant possess.
Speaking of variety, the band really shoot for the stars on the album’s title track Social Cues, a blissfully enjoyable anthem with production highly reminiscent of David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes. Looking at the anxieties that come with fame, the track takes quite an upsetting but eye-opening viewpoint with juxtaposing instrumentals (a trick that Bowie himself was famed for). The smooth and tightly produced track What I’m Becoming absolutely sticks the landing with this shoegaze style as well as the self-deprecating songwriting that proves how hyperaware Matt Schulz is of his own difficulties and issues.
Sadly there are a few too many cases of blandness and difficulty on this album for it to really hit home as hard as it potentially could have. The opening track Broken Boy promises much with the shimmering guitars and production, but the repetitive nature of the songwriting and lyrical content makes it hard to endure. Night Running with Beck is a peculiar dub-reggae vibed song with lyrics that attempt to be witty and otherworldly but instead sound pretty ridiculous at times. It’s a shame to see this song flop as much as it does because I consider myself a fan of both the artists in question, but this just doesn’t really work.
This isn’t a bad album, but it could have been so much more. Sometimes the greatest art can stem from the darkest of periods in a writer’s life; but in the case of Cage The Elephant it would appear that they’ve fallen short of the mark. You cannot fault the drive and ambition of this record, particularly the different avenues it winds down and the honesty it provides, that alone cannot make a great album, however. It hasn’t done anything to massively damage the group’s brand or legitimacy, but the anticipation of matching the likes of Melophobia or Thank You, Happy Birthday has sadly not been met. There are genuinely fantastic songs on here, but they happen to weave in and out of some pretty poor ones too.