Since the release of their 2008 self-titled debut, Cage The Elephant have established themselves as alternative superstars. Dabbling in a variety of genres and sounds, their previous albums have often felt experimental, yet still true to their alternative roots. Their newest album, Social Cues, is an exception.
Incorporating the psychedelic vibe that characterized their previous album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, it’s clear the band has taken a similar approach musically with their new record. Building off the grungy beats, crunchy guitars and harsh vocals of Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cues is underwhelming, especially after the widespread anticipation of an album with continued experimentation.
With festival season approaching, many of the songs on the album were obviously intended to be sing-alongs with a good chance of reaching the top of the alternative charts. “Ready To Let Go,” the first single of the album, is the epitome of an alternative radio hit, with its predictable beats and a melody that fails to go anywhere. Unlike any of their previous albums, Social Cues feels safe, formulated for success rather than risk.
Although most of the album is tailored to mainstream alternative music, Cage The Elephant is still able to incorporate some exciting elements, starting with the first song of the album, “Broken Boy.” The album opener starts with a lo-fi, spacey intro and transitions into a fast-tempo, mellow groove that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album’s somber, heavier-sounding tunes.
While musical experimentation is lacking in Social Cues, lead vocalist Mike Shultz explores a new realm lyrically, dedicating most of the album to his recent divorce. The final song on the album, “Goodbye,” best exemplifies this focus on lost love. The somber, weighted tune in which Shultz sings “I wish you well, I want to see you smile / It’s alright, goodbye, goodbye” sounds like a final ode to his wife and represents the way he’s putting the divorce behind him. While emotionally moving, “Goodbye,” along with the other heavy songs on the album, lacks new insight into heartbreak from an alternative artist’s perspective.
Although the band covers thematic grounds it hasn’t explored before, the musical approach is radio-friendly and clearly intended to climb the alternative charts. It makes sense for the band to release a generic album to hold onto their fan base and have something engaging to play live this summer. But while the album provides all the elements we enjoyed in Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cage The Elephant let fans down by straying from experimentation and falling for monotony. It would’ve been nice to see the band give us something we’ve never heard before, but nevertheless, their new songs will undoubtedly be enjoyed by fans and played on repeat in the coming weeks.