Following a four-year break from recording, American rock band Cage the Elephant released their fifth studio album on April 19. The album is titled “Social Cues” and explores a diverse new musical direction for the band. Four singles were released leading up to the album, each with similar lyrical themes but significant sonic diversity. Lead singer Matt Shultz’s divorce fuels the themes and lyrics of the album, which revolve around lost love, self-reflection and isolation.
The four singles released prior to the album were indicative of a departure from their previous efforts, and the album as a whole is a progressive step for the band. It opens with the energetic, drum-driven “Broken Boy” before cascading into the title track “Social Cues,” which is rife with psychedelic guitar and a dynamic bass part, characteristic of Cage the Elephant. The first single from the album, “Ready to Let Go,” hearkens back to the band’s “Thank You,” “Happy Birthday” and “Melophobia” eras with a familiar guitar crunch and melodic bass lines, complete with a “Tell Me I’m Pretty”-esque guitar solo. For longtime fans of the band, this is easily the most listenable song. It incorporates influences from almost all of their previous records.
“House of Glass” was released as the second single and features a darker bass part, more experimental guitar-driven sound and spoken word lyrics. Fans may also find familiarity in “Love’s the Only Way,” a slow song with only Matt’s vocals over a single clean electric guitar that is reminiscent of their past songs “Telescope” and “Rubber Ball.” The album also marks a major collaboration with Beck, who contributes lyrics to “Night Running.” This song is perhaps the greatest sonic departure for the band, featuring elements of shoegaze and reggae while incorporating keyboards and more electronics. The final single concludes the 13-song album, titled “Goodbye.” A fitting closer, the song is a slow piano-driven piece that clearly alludes to Matt Shultz’s divorce with the verse “My pretty bird, my favorite lullaby how’d I become the thorn in your side/All your laughter turned into a cry/It’s all right, goodbye goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”
“Social Cues” demonstrates that Cage the Elephant is exploring new musical territory, some of it a major departure from their rock and punk roots seen in their eponymous “Cage the Elephant” in 2008. Each song encompasses a wide range of influences from electronic, punk, reggae, shoegaze and psychedelic. Musical instruments and sounds previously unused by the band are quite prominent, with the notable addition of pianos, new guitar pedals and vocal effects. Unlike the production of “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” “Social Cues” is largely absent of influence from the producer. With Dan Auerbach as Producer of their previous album, the band emulated The Black Keys sonically. John Hill, who co-wrote and produced “Feel It Still” by Portugal The Man, was brought in to produce the new album. He appears to have let the band explore their own sound throughout the recording process. While sonically diverse, the album carries melancholy undertones and fewer fast-paced aggressive tracks, seeming subdued at times. However, each instrument is given full consideration and none serve as a simple backbeat. The instruments themselves tell as much of a story as Matt’s lyrics.
Overall, “Social Cues” marks an interesting exploratory period in the band’s musical career, maintaining the overall Cage the Elephant sound and Matt Shultz’s unmistakable singing while bringing the band in an altogether more experimental direction. For longtime fans and new listeners alike the album is definitely worth a listen.