Kentucky rock band Cage The Elephant stormed onto the rock scene back in 2008 with hit songs like 'Ain't No Rest For The Wicked', 'Back Against The Wall' and 'In One Ear' that stormed the air waves and pushed their self-titled debut album to sell over 500,000 copies in the United States and be certified gold.
Their debut showcased a band that had influences of alternative rock and blues in their veins with a sharp sense of songwriting and crafting melodies. The band followed it up with 'Thank You, Happy Birthday' in 2011, which featured the hit 'Shake Me Down' and found Cage The Elephant showing off their punk and grunge influences.
But it was the band's third album, 2013's 'Melophobia' that saw the band start to create their own sound by adding psychedelic elements into their music. 'Melophobia' has become their most critically acclaimed piece of work and even earned the band a Grammy nomination. Over the course of these three albums, Cage The Elephant have steadily improved and transitioned from being one of the top young bands to now a consistent staple in the rock scene.
Just two years after 'Melophobia', the band announced news of a new album titled 'Tell Me I'm Pretty'. The new album has The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach at the production helm and it is the band's first departure from Jay Joyce, who produced all three Cage The Elephant albums to date.
That being said, let's go track by track and take a look at 'Tell Me I'm Pretty'.
1.) 'Cry Baby'
The song starts with this thick, muscular guitar riff that quickly transitions to a slower tempo with some brass strings in the background. It has a real sixties vibe and you can hear influences of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. You specifically hear these influences in the song with lead singer Matt Schultz's almost reserved-like vocals where he sound eerily similar to John Lennon.
With lyrics like "I think it's pretty strange. Watching the passerby. Crawling all over one another, trying to get ahead in life", 'Cry Baby' seems to be displaying a criticism of the capitalism mentality. The buildup of the chorus and the guitar tones in the song make it sound very similar to a song that The Black Keys would write.
The best part ends up coming when 'Cry Baby' changes tempo during the outro. You hear Cage The Elephant just jamming naturally and sounding like themselves for the first time. It's not an 'in your face' type of song, but 'Cry Baby' gets a message across. Overall, it's not a bad way to start out an album.
2.) 'Mess Around'
'Mess Around' was the first single released from 'Tell Me I'm Pretty' back in October and right upon the first listen I got very annoyed because it sounds like a carbon-copy example of a Black Keys song.
With the fuzzy-sounding guitar riffs and the garage-rock filled reverb that soak up the vocals, 'Mess Around' sounds like Cage The Elephant attempting to be a Black Keys cover band.
|Dan Auerbach, producer|
and lead singer of The Black Keys.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Auerbach plays the guitar solo on the song, but it adds nothing. Schultz said in an interview that this song was inspired when he saw hip-hop duo Outkast at a festival. 'Mess Around' does have a southern rock sound, but it doesn't sound like it was influenced by Outkast (which would've been really cool). This was a very weak and disappointing lead single.
3.) 'Sweetie Little Jean'
This song is about a girl in Schultz's neighborhood growing up who was kidnapped and murdered. "Sweetie Little Jean' brings more of the band's psychedelic vibes that they found great success with on 'Melophobia', thanks to the intial drum fills, keyboard patterns and vocals.
The falsetto vocals during the chorus perfectly capture the psychedelic-pop vibe and also fits the content of the lyrics. The upbeat instrumentals don't really fit with the melancholic lyrics, but for me it all just seems to work.
The lyrics tell a story about the sad conclusion that the girl isn't going to be found alive. It has the theme of letting go and the song succeeds at being able to emotionally connect.
4.) 'Too Late To Say Goodbye'
I'm not a huge fan of the pitch-altered vocals and fuzzy guitars and bass. Schultz does a good job at displaying the apporpriate amount of emotion during the chorus, of a love that may be doomed but is too late to get out of.
I like how the lyrics tell a story of Bonnie and Clyde. Schultz said in an interview that he wanted to write the song from Bonnie's perspective about falling in love with the wrong guy, but that he also wanted it to be relateable to experiences in his own life.
'Too Late To Say Goodbye' is a good song, but the instrumental doesn't change in variation enough for me to call it a great song. Again, it's not bad, but also not particularly memorable.
5.) 'Cold Cold Cold'
This might've been one of my favorite songs off of the album. I really enjoyed the two guitar riffs that opened the intro and they helped set a cool, dark mood for 'Cold Cold Cold'. Lyrically, it sounds as if Schultz is talking to a doctor or a counselor and is saying that he needs someone in his life, either for love or as a friend. The vocals sound reserved and help showcase the intimacy of the song and the distorted guitar solo near the end added an extra element. Still, I feel like with some more urgent instrumentation that it could've grabbed me even more.
'Trouble' is interesting because with the delay ridden guitar and the high pitched falsetto intro, it sounds more like a Coldplay song.
Lyrically, it's about the narrator wishing that his lover would help him evade the vices that have been hurting him throughout his life. I get that the vocals have to sound quiet and relaxed, but they sound almost too relaxed. There's no drama or energy in this song that can help me get emotionally invested into it.
That being said, it's a nice standalone song due to the acoustic textures surrounding the introspective lyrics. But like with many songs off of this album, an element feels missing that was there on earlier Cage The Elephant albums.
7.) 'How Are You True'
This is a song about overcoming hard times and finding a way to carry on. It's a tried and true theme, but it did feel universal. Again, it could have been imporved by the need of some energy that would have matched and then contrasted with the acoustic guitars and drum patterns. And with lyrics like 'the light will guide you home', this song feels more like Coldplay with Black Keys instrumentation than it does Cage The Elephant.
8.) 'That's Right'
'That's Right' is a much needed uptempo number after several downers, but I just can't stand these fuzzed filled guitars because they take away the melody that was trying to be established by the keyboards.
And I can't get into the lyrics. "I get in trouble cause I speak my mind. Sometimes I like it when I make you cry". With the lyrics that he frames, Shultz isn't coming across as a sympathetic figure.
I love fun, upbeat rock songs about partying and having fun. You can do these songs right, just look at Guns N' Roses. At this point, I'm starting to realize that the sixties vibe that Cage The Elephant was going for just isn't working.
9.) 'Punchin' Bag'
This song opens up with a unique strings based intro, but then the fuzzy-distorted guitar riff ruins any melody that was being established.
'Punchin Bag' is a bout a woman who is an abusive relatinoship and is ready to fight back. I like the theme and the upbeat tone and tempo that the band decided to do to create a more triumphant tone, but I also feel like that there needs to be some kind of urgency for this type of subject matter. This song again feels like Cage The Elephant sounding like The Black Keys, which at this point I'll blame Auerbach more than the band, but this song could've been better.
10.) 'Portuguese Knife Fight'
I'll be honest. This title made me laugh at first, but it wasn't a good way to close out an album. I did like some of the psychedelic guitar tones that Cage The Elephant were adding and they helped pick up the song's pace, but there isn't anything about the song that is memorable. It honestly sounds like many songs off of The Black Key's album 'El Camino'. I can't think of anything else to say because it's just a lesser version of 'Mess Around' and that's saying something.
|Photo courtesy of MTV.com.|
However, the production from Auerbach create a bland sound that is too similar to other bands, but doesn't contain the same type of energy or raw passion that makes Cage The Elephant special. The songwriting had its moments, but oddly lacked its typical consistent descriptive nature.
Cage The Elephant is now four albums into an electric career and are still one of the more exciting rock bands around. But with four albums under their belts, they are not the same young, up and coming band they were back in 2008. Bands get older and end up changing their sounds and styles of songwriting. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn't mean that every album is going to automatically be any good.
Unfortaunetly, while 'Melophobia' might be hailed as an underrated gem and the band's best piece of work, 'Tell Me I'm Pretty' will most likely be forgotten within a few months.
2.5 OUT OF 5
STRONGEST THREE TRACKS: 1.) 'Cold Cold Cold' 2.) 'Cry Baby' 3.) 'Sweetie Little Jean'
Any thoughts on the new Cage The Elephant album 'Tell Me I'm Pretty'?
Leave a comment below or on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.