Album Review: Cage the Elephant - Social Cues
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Cage the Elephant’s fifth album, Social Cues holds nothing back for etiquette's sake. The rock band have returned after a four-year break since 2015's Tell Me I’m Pretty and it seems to have been well worth the wait.
Album art 'Social Cues' (2019)
In that time, the band seems to have settled into an interesting new sonic niche. This is consistent with the group's continual experimentation across their career that has seen a drastically different sound with every new album. Cage The Elephant also seems to have learnt how to share some emotional vulnerability, with some of the songs discussing lead singer, Matt Shultz’s, recent divorce.
The album opens with a tantalising silence before bursting in with drums for ‘Broken Boy’. This song is quite a harsh opener and does not seem to be wholly characteristic of the rest of the album. The following titular track, ‘Social Cues’ carries the electronic sound that continues in virtually all of the songs thereafter. Its guitar hook makes the track feel much fuller than ‘Broken Boy’ and gives it a lot of life despite the minor undertones running throughout. The upbeat tempo contrasted with the minor key depicts the misunderstanding that the band have clearly experienced as musicians as Shultz sings the line, “at least you’re on the radio” to suggest that others perceive that as the greatest success.
Many of the songs in the album are directly juxtaposed in their sound, an example being the transition between ‘Hour of Glass’ and ‘Love’s the Only Way’. The former is a killer rock anthem with a guitar solo that takes the intensity of the song to a whole new level. This intensity immediately spills over into the following track, which is introduced by strings, which carry a huge orchestral atmosphere and add yet another dimension to this multi-faceted album. However, unlike in previous albums, the band don’t allow their distinct rock tendencies to disappear as Shultz’s vocals are as rough and raspy as ever, which combined with the song's sombre mood amount to a haunting effect. Its atmospheric vulnerability has a similar quality to current pop superstar Billie Eilish and seems to tap into a contemporary taste for confessional lyricism.
This vulnerability is really brought into the spotlight in the heart-wrenching song ‘What I’m Becoming’, which honestly discusses the emotional experience of ending a marriage. Shulz admits that he “never meant to hurt you, never meant to make you cry" and that he's "so sorry for what [he's] becoming”. This is combined with yet more strings and Shulz’s vocals have a softer quality to them here, allowing the versatility of this band to shine through.
Overall, Social Cues treads the line between upbeat and mellow expertly. Although ‘mellow’ is not a word not often associated with the band, Cage the Elephant excels in the quieter moments, manipulating them in order to add texture and variety to the experience of the album as a whole. This distinguishes Social Cues from everything in the band's previous discography.
Listen to Social Cues out now via RCA.