The release of Cage the Elephant’s 2008 self-titled debut left the rock scene with tentative admiration and a handful of questions: Was this band from the boondocks of Kentucky worthy of the harsh scrutiny directed at the alternative genre? Was its arrogant swagger justified or simply a façade? Ultimately, the answers would have to wait until its body of work grew. With Thank You Happy Birthday, the listener gets some long-awaited answers.
Cage The Elephant
Thank You Happy Birthday
Cage the Elephant’s sophomoric (in more ways than one) release is a few short steps above mediocrity. At times, it shows the same promise that radiated from 2008’s “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.” However, the bravado occasionally borders on excessive, and many of the cocky risks end up resulting in a mess of noise. In an album where it seems to be feast or famine, the hits are impressive, but are overshadowed by the flops.
Unfortunately, Thank You Happy Birthday suffers from the affliction of bad filler material — something that plagues many younger bands. The deep tracks are fairly forgettable, or memorable for the wrong reasons. For instance, “Sell Yourself” is a punk nightmare. The lyrics echo passionate dissatisfaction and would complement any semblance of a tune, but the end result finds singer Matthew Shultz shrieking his lines over a mash-up of cymbals and bad guitar.
One track worth mentioning above the rest for its blatant display of egotism is the uncomfortable “Indy Kidz.” The band tries its best to sound intimidating, but fails miserably. Twice during the song, Schultz falls into bouts of senseless screaming. The second time, the screaming declines into strange guttural noises, which Schultz follows by repeating the yearning lyrics, “You’re so cool” and “I want to be just like you.” If Cage the Elephant is trying to suggest anything for the listener to believe, the music dissuades it from doing so.
It’s a shame that a few of the songs are so heinous, since there are a few gems among the havoc. “Right Before My Eyes” is perhaps the best song Cage the Elephant has composed. It’s deep, slower and uncharacteristic of its artist — but then again, the best songs often are (see “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day). “Right Before My Eyes” shows maturity where almost every other song exudes some measure of childish ignorance. “Shake Me Down” also provides an appealing contrast with shifts between ethereal guitar and rocking drums.
Thank You Happy Birthday showcases the talent contained within Cage the Elephant, but it also proves that the band has some growing up to do. Cage the Elephant begins the album with pure rock in “Always Something” and ends it with the soothing “Flow,” but there are many bumps in the road between. The band is left in the same position it was after its first release. It still has potential, but also continues to make lapses in judgment that prove to be detrimental. Thank You Happy Birthday is worth it in the end, but just barely.