Cage The Elephant, a four-piece rock band from Kentucky, are probably the most difficult band in the mainstream music scene to second guess. Since 2008, they’ve released three albums, all varying wildly in style, channelling everything from blues to grunge. Album number four, ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty‘, follows this trajectory of ceaseless change, this time venturing in to pop territories. It’s not a complete departure from their style – vitally, it is definitely still Cage The Elephant, but the sound is nevertheless very new.
One of the most important things to note about the outcome of this album is the producer: Dan Auerbach, no less, of The Black Keys, has had his hands on the faders (previous experience in this role including Lana Del Ray). This is probably most obvious in ‘Mess Around‘, the first single from this album. With a bizarre fuzz bass, warbling keyboards and a brittle guitar, Auerbach‘s influence creates a tone not too distant from that of ‘Turn Blue‘. Apart from this however, it seems the band’s sound is borrowing heavily from the rhythm and blues and pop-rock of the 1960s. The same single, for example, could be from an early Rolling Stones. ‘Sweetie Little Jean‘, with literal yet imaginative lyrics and a distant saloon-bar piano, would be convincing coming from The Kinks, and opening track ‘Cry Baby‘ echoes songs by The Turtles, complete with airy harmonies.
Cage The Elephant have established time and time again that they are not a one trick pony, and this is not a one decade album. Jumping to the 90s, ‘Punchin Bag‘ features simplistic drums and jumpy guitars resembling Auerbach‘s own arch-nemeses, The White Stripes – although in places delivered with the lyrical aggression of 70s new-wave types, such as Tom Verlaine. ‘How Are You True‘ delivers jazzy, Jeff Buckley-esque guitar chords, and a melody that channels The Beatles. Even jumping in to this decade, ‘Too Late To Say Goodbye‘ bears many of Hozier‘s trademarks, from the bombastic riffs to the catchy chorus and wide melody. In fact, it is worth noting that Matthew Schultz‘s vocals all over this album are a dream to listen to, often hovering in calm falsettoes as on ‘Trouble‘, sometimes reaching impassioned screeches such as on ‘Cold Cold Cold‘. Indeed, the whole band is as strong as ever with this record. Schultz and brother Brad lay down guitar on ‘Trouble‘ that is shimmering and perfectly balanced; Jared Champion‘s drums sound giant throughout, creating that punchy groove on ‘Too Late To Say Goodbye‘; and Daniel Tichenor keeps the whole thing at the sweet spot between fuzzed-out rock and mellowing pop, with a bass that is prominent but never over-reaching.
For those not ready to accept the change in this album, ‘Portuguese Knife Fight‘ is most typical of the band’s early work: bluesy, raw, and sinister. It serves as a good closer to the album, too, since it reminds those listening that this is still the same band as ever. There are many colours on the palette Cage The Elephant holds, and this album is clearly a result of their wide taste. From start to finish, there is both familiarity and surprise, and first time listeners will be just as enamoured as die-hard fans. Only time will tell where the band goes from here.
Cage The Elephant’s new album ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’ is released 18th December 2015. Pre-order here
They’ll be touring the US in January, and hit UK in February. Details here –
Cage the Elephant UK Tour Dates. Tickets
12 February – Bierkeller – Bristol, UK
13 February – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – London, UK
14 February – Rescue Rooms – Nottingham, UK
15 February – Riverside – Newcastle, UK
16 February – QMU – Glasgow, UK
18 February – Academy 2 – Liverpool, UK
19 February – Unity Works – Wakefield, UK
20 February – Academy 2 – Manchester, UK