Cage The Elephant released their new album “Social Cues” Friday, joining their alternative rock powerhouse compatriots — Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend — in releasing new music before the festival season. Rising to fame with instant classics like “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” (2008) and “Cigarette Daydreams” (2013), Cage The Elephant made a name for themselves through exploratory and new sounds. A dependable headliner for the festival circuit, Cage has used their popularity to heavily experiment with their sound in the last couple years — “Melophobia” is an album of macabre unconventionality and “Tell Me I’m Pretty” is an exploration of funkadelic retro-rock.
However, “Social Cues” stands out from Cage The Elephant’s formidable discography entirely because it seems that Cage has finally found their “sound” — a wonderful blend of bluesy rock, alternative radio rock and lo-fi production. Centered around lead singer Matt Shultz’s recent divorce from his wife, the lyrics are somber, a subject of a Pyrrhic victory. After all the turmoil and sadness, he’s come out on the other side to funnel his pain into music.
The album starts off strong with “Broken Boy,” a quick tempo mix of synth and aggressive electric guitar that portrays Shultz’s guilt over the breakup — he is the broken boy — and is reminiscent of teenage angst. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to jump up and down, tearing at your hair while your heavy black eyeliner slides down your face in a mix of sweat and tears. Long-time rocker Beck — and frequent Grammy artist that confused just about everyone when he won Album of the Year in 2015 — accompanies Cage on the song “Night Running,” one that is made for inebriated crowds to sway back and forth to in an outside venue but still has an exciting blend of the two artists’ music.
The one song that best represents this already exemplary album is “House of Glass.” Containing a guitar progression that will probably have teenage boys struggling to keep tempo with it in their rooms this summer — shout out to the three magnificent guitarists of the group — and relying on Matt Shultz’s foreboding drawl, it’s a song about isolation and destruction that shows just exactly why Cage The Elephant has become the standard for this generation’s alternative rock.
The final song, aptly named “Goodbye,” is another stand out. Aside from a soft violin backtrack with some accompanying piano, there’s not much more to “Goodbye” than Shultz’s smooth and reflective voice. It’s his final apology to his wife and his marriage, for which he seemingly blames himself. “My pretty bird, my favorite lullaby / How'd I become the thorn in your side? / All your laughter turned into a cry / It's alright, goodbye / Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” It’s intensely intimate, leaves the listener feeling alone, and stirs up memories of the “one who got away.”
The only criticism that this album could justifiably receive is that it’s pretty plainly a radio darling — there’s no doubt that “Social Cues” will be played repetitively this summer, and it probably doesn’t help that Cage is set to headline the summer’s most anticipated festival with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. However their popularity just shows that they have found a way to draw a plethora of listeners in with their eclectic style, and the radio usually just reflects the best of the best.
All in all, Cage The Elephant did a spectacular job with this album. It has its standouts — namely “Broken Boy” and “House of Glass” — and has some songs that fade to the background, but it shows that at last, Cage has found their comfort zone at the intersection of all the different styles they excel at. It’s experimental enough to keep their longtime fans happy and similar enough to their past work that people can recognize their songs, which is perfect for a festival and radio regular.