Review | Cage the Elephant - Social Cues
With their 2019 offering, Cage the Elephant favour crowd-engaging songwriting over offering anything worthwhile to their own musical landscape.
The story of Cage the Elephant is disappointing. Back in 2009, they were a new and innovative rock band, soaring their way to popularity on the backs of catchy songwriting, interesting lyrical themes, and an incredible stage presence. These days it seems like they’ve over saturated the market with these same-old low effort, low risk projects that have stemmed from 2015's Tell Me I’m Pretty. Social Cues follows in the same vein musically as all other CTE records, with the tried-and-true routine of guitars, drums and bass, the same 4/4 verse-chorus-verse songwriting and empty, overbearing lyrics that are delivered with passion but unfortunately only stay skin deep.
Nevertheless, Social Cues starts off with a bang. The opening track Broken Boy roars in with great energy, driving drums, and an infectious hook. Frustratingly, CTE is plagued with the same problem as many other indie-rock bands today; you know some songs are just gems, with most of the other tracks feeling more like filler songs to bulk up the album. Broken Boy is a gem - it’s a perfect outdoor festival track teeming with life and radiating sunlight and dancing. A couple other songs on the record seem to tap into this beautiful energy, such as the title track Social Cues and the jarring Night Running, however most of the tracks on this album seem to be the same methodical, formulaic songwriting we expect from Cage the Elephant.
As with all things, there are exceptions to the rule, such as the horror-movie post-punk House of Glass. Songs like this show hope that CTE can eventually break free of the mold they’ve forced themselves into. The song has great lyrical themes, a catchy chorus, while bringing new musical ideas to their visions of songwriting. This song is by far the most sonically interesting, with excellent drumming, a dramatic baseline and a riveting lyrical identity. This song is followed by Love is the Only Way, which treats us to a fairly good (albeit, Radiohead knockoff) instrumental with, unfortunately, forgetful lyrics. It’s almost a shame to see a nice instrumental left in the dust associated with such patronizing and first edit lyrics.
Sadly, this trend continues. The songs Skin and Bones, The War is Over and Dance Dance forcing you to sit through boring but semi-catchy instrumentals and painful lyrics. It seems like CTE struggles to find that perfect balance between catchy instrumentals and adept songwriting. These songs were songs I will never go back to - it’s safe to say if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.
Black Madonna and Tokyo Smoke both show more promising lyrics as well as exciting instrumentals, however, it seems like they are basic filler tracks to keep the record executives happy with a traditional, 12+ track record experience. The record could have done without these songs too. It’s a shame because their instrumentals are better than a lot of the tracks on the album, but more effort needs to be made to make them cohesive and interesting for the listener.
The closer on Social Cues is by far the highlight of the record. Emotive, passionate, lyrically forward, memorable - this track is all the things CTE seemingly avoids on almost all the tracks on Social Cues. CTE have always been a band that could put out interesting slow jams, such as Shake Me Down on 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday, those songs are the ones that have resonated most with listeners over the years, still being some of CTE's most listened to songs. Goodbye is no exception, and with the context of Matt Schultz’s failed relationship, you can hear the pain and sorrow emanating through this track. It’s a great closer, however in comparison to the rest of the record, one wonders why this incredible song was forced to reside in the same album with other songs such as Dance, Dance.
Cage the Elephant's Social Cues is another disappointing record for the band. The ideas are there for potentially a great record, however with the filler tracks and the less-than-stellar lyrics, the standout tracks seem to be forgotten more and more.
Best song: House of Glass
Worst song: Dance Dance