Cage the Elephant Returns with Familiar Psych-rock Sound on ‘Social Cues’

Courtesy of Neil Krug

Psychedelic rock powerhouse Cage the Elephant’s fifth studio album, “Social Cues,” released April 19, further established its place in the alternative rock scene. The Kentucky natives stick to their roots with another album of thought-provoking lyrics sung in fuzzy vocals and instrumental layering.

Fading in with a quick percussion of drummer Jared Champion, fuzzed-out guitar of rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz and synthesizer of guitarist and keyboardist Matthan Minster, the album’s opener, “Broken Boy,” wakes up the listener. The fast-moving track demands attention and provides a sense of urgency. An abrupt end matches the abrasive nature of the song as a whole.

Following “Broken Boy,” the album’s title track showcases the lyrical strengths of the band. “Social Cues” addresses the pressures of being in the spotlight as lead singer Matt Shultz sings, “I don’t know if it is right to live this way, yeah / I’ll be in the back room / Tell me when it’s over / People always say, ‘Man, at least you’re on the radio.’”

“Night Running” is a breath of fresh air on the album with its reggae-inspired beats and lead guitarist Nick Bockrath’s infectious guitar riff that bookends the song. The shift could be attributed to the fact the track features the genre-bending singer Beck, who will be co-headlining a tour with Cage the Elephant this summer.

Throughout the album, there’s a lot of talk of running, but there’s no specific mention of what they’re running away from or toward. “Skin and Bones” comes close to answers with lyrics “I’ve been running for so long / All that’s left is skin and bones” expressing the toll all the running takes on one’s well being.

Leaving listeners to speculate on the nature of the chase, the band continues to present the disarray of Shultz’s mental state through the lyrics. The pressures exemplified in “Social Cues” are echoed in “Tokyo Smoke.” The short, poetic lines, “My public smile / My double face / Half in the light / Half in the shade” evoke imagery of a mask hiding one’s true self.

Many of the tracks move quick, furthering the illusion of running. The garage rock tune, the thumping bass of bassist Daniel Tichenor and the nearly monotone verses of “House of Glass” create tension almost as if the house of glass is about to shatter.

The lead single, “Ready To Let Go,” gave fans a preview of “Social Cues.” With the Cage the Elephant sound fans have come to know and love, the song acted as an accurate representation of the album.

Though the album does have the band’s identifiable sound, bits of it end up blending together and even into the rest of the band’s discography. Drawing on the same sounds and techniques that have been used in past albums — the fuzz of 2015 album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” and the biting guitar of 2013’s “Melophobia” — creates a sense of familiarity for the listener.

Coming off of a Grammy win for Best Rock Album in 2017 for “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” it makes sense Cage the Elephant would continue with a familiar strategy, but it could leave fans a bit bored.

“Love’s The Only Way” breaks up the guitar-and-synth-filled album with a classic string section and acoustic guitar. The simplicity of the instrumentals echoes the simplicity of the titular message of the song: love is the answer.

That love may be the only thing that gives Shultz rest in his metaphorical race. Exhausted from all the running and hiding, he looks for a place “where a soul can find some sleep.”

The theme of peace and love continues in “The War Is Over.” The band takes a seemingly political stance with the track as Shultz sings, “You can build your walls / Love will tear it down” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s proposal for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Cage the Elephant bids the listener “Goodbye” with the closing track. It was the final single before the album’s release, giving a preview into the slower side of “Social Cues.”

The somber tune takes on a deeper sadness as members posted to social media about the passing of multiple friends of the band in the past months.

Back in January, just before the band began teasing its first single, it tweeted of the passing of Kentucky-based musician Billy Swayze. At the beginning of this month, members again took to the band’s account to honor Tiger Merritt, frontman of psych rock band Morning Teleportation, days after doing the same for musician and producer Dylan Graves.

Devoting time to delicate matters, harsh instrumentals and the middle ground, “Social Cues” boasts Cage the Elephant’s variation within their unique brand of psych rock.

Despite the sonic comfort and repetition within the album and the band’s discography, it’s impressive that Cage the Elephant has been able to carve out its niche in the genre. This album only confirms Cage the Elephant is here to give the fans their fix of rock ‘n’ roll.

“Social Cues” is available to stream and buy on Spotify and iTunes. Cage the Elephant and Beck will be playing Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island (1300 S. Linn White Dr.) July 31. With Ticketmaster’s fluctuating price system, tickets are upwards of $300. They start at $90 currently on StubHub.

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