Cage The Elephant is arguably the best modern rock band of today, and that is the only reason that its latest album, Social Cues, can be classified as slightly disappointing. The bar the band has set for itself is so high that its latest full-length misses the mark, even though it still put most of the modern rock stratosphere to shame.
Social Cues is provocative, well-rounded and polished. It has depth and variety, heartbreaking ballads and catchy singalongs. Though it has great production and well-written lyrics, the album is missing that instant wow-factor that 2013’s Melophobia radiates upon first listen.
The record covers everything from America’s current political climate to the downside of making it in the music business, but the standouts are the deeply personal tracks that frontman Matt Shultz wrote about his divorce from his wife, Juliette Buchs.
“Ready To Let Go,” the lead single on Social Cues, chronicles the acceptance of the end of Shultz’s marriage. Schultz paints a picture of a trip to Pompeii, Italy, where all doubt was subsided and they knew for sure that there was nothing left to save in their relationship. The track is delivered in Cage The Elephant’s signature up-tempo, percussion-heavy dance style — it’s depressing content masked by its own catchiness. But the tempo and song’s meaning don’t contradict themselves. Somehow, the fast pace is the perfect way to tell its truth.
The closing track, “Goodbye,” holds a similar meaning but also has a very different packaging. The ballad takes a stripped-down approach, with just Shultz’s vocals and a few piano chords carrying the bulk of the tune. The defeatist attitude of the track is so strong listeners can feel the emotional exhaustion. When everything has been tried, there’s nothing left to do but walk away, and this track captures the exact moment Shultz walked away, along with the ways in which his heart shattered.
The Kentucky rock band recently announced a summer co-headlining North American tour with Beck. The infamous singer-songwriter brought his stylings to “Night Running,” another of Cage’s recent singles.
As the only feature on Social Cues, Beck is exactly what the record needs. The melodic track takes its time with the tempo, while also painting an eerie picture of trying to outrun your demons. The instrumentals on “Night Running” are the best the record has to offer between its killer guitar solo and old-school video game production detailing.
Toward the end of the record, the band makes things political, taking the popular rock ’n’ roll stance that war and division are never the answer. An impressive pair of peace-promoting tracks showcase the band’s disapproval of mass destruction in never-ending wars as well as President Donald Trump’s wall proposal.
“Love’s The Only Way,” is an “Imagine” inspired peace anthem where the soft production creates an angelic vibe. With the track, Shultz paints a picture of a place where no one needs to die over a disagreement. With “The War is Over,” the band continues its previous thought but takes the liberty of proclaiming that love will always beat out hate in the real world and already has.
The band has been experimental with its sound in recent years, working with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, for a garage-grunge meets classic rock result, and Social Cues feels like another attempt at a sound change. But the band is at its best when it simplifies its sound and lets its uniqueness shine through.
Social Cues is a solid album with Cage The Elephant’s recognizable stamp on it, but the band has not been able to fill the shoes of its first three records.