Album Review: Cage the Elephant – Social Cues

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Cage the Elephant’s fifth studio album Social Cues sees frontman Matt Shultz reflect on the harsh realities of loss and the breakdown of his marriage. As per usual with the Nashville-via-Kentucky band, they’re unpredictable. The fact that you can never sort them into one box is part of their musical identity. Social Cues is arguably their most complete project to date. Through the course of thirteen tracks, they present the fragility and depletion of the human mind and the process of reclaiming yourself after despair.

The album’s opener ‘Broken Boy’ is thunderous and unsettling. Instantly, the listener is placed inside the madness occurring within Shultz’s mind and there is no exit. The track tackles isolation and unfamiliarity in a feverish and sweat-inducing manner. The mood slightly alleviates on the title track, with an infectious pop-hook hitting like a surge of adrenaline. Despite the confidence and assertiveness of Shultz’s vocals, the lyrics are bittersweet. “People say, at least you’re on the radio,” acknowledges that some of the markers some have for success don’t always equate to happiness or fulfilment.

There’s a change of pace on ‘Black Madonna’, which features a tantalising rhythm. When you reach the third track, the pressure has been lifted and a dark cloud has shifted, even if it's only for a moment. ‘Night Running’, which was produced with Beck, has a dub-reggae quality. The track’s sound is more reminiscent of Beck’s work instead of Cage the Elephant's, but it works.

Though the initial part of the album sees the band in full-throttle mode, ‘Skin and Bones’ is where they take few steps back to reflect. Whereas the previous tracks sounded otherworldly, ‘Skin and Bones’ marks a return to reality. Later in the album, ‘Love’s The Only Way’ seesaws back to the mood presented in ‘Skin and Bones’. Despite its ethereal quality, the track’s placing on the album slightly disrupts its flow.

The enticing rhythms return on ‘Ready To Let Go’, with Shultz singing about moving on after his divorce and his acceptance of it being over. There’s a roaring energy that drives the track and an animalist hunger that’s desperate to be satisfied. ‘House of Glass’ feels like stepping inside a never-ending maze. Through a series of frenzied instrumentals and the use of repetition, it portrays a mind rattled by paranoia. ‘The War Is Over’ and ‘What I Am Becoming’ are both explorations of acceptance.

Social Cues concludes with ‘Goodbye’, which channels Shultz’s inner pain in a way that’s intimate and heartfelt. It was written for his wife a few weeks before he left, and because of that, it’s charged with raw lyricism. ‘Goodbye’ may feature at the end of the album, but it ultimately presents the backbone for the rest of the album when you listen back in retrospect.

On their fifth offering, Cage The Elephant are able to revive their sound by dissecting the better parts of their previous album Tell Me I’m Pretty, and elements of Melophobia, in a way that’s fresh and more poised than ever before.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Listen to Social Cues by Cage The Elephant below: