Release Year: 2015
Ever since I watched the intro to Borderlands, I’ve been in love with Cage the Elephant. To me this is one band that can do no wrong. I was both excited and weary when they announced their fourth album towards the end of the year. Was it going to be even better than their previous effort or were they going to take a misstep? Ever since their second LP the band have been moving away from their insane rock sound; they move even further away from their sound on this effort. So is it a hit or a miss?
The first thing I noticed about the album was how mellow it is. There are no high pitched, squealing guitars losing control. Matt Shultz doesn’t sound like he’s having a breakdown as he howls through a song. In other words, these aren’t songs to lose your mind to and start moshing. Rather, they make you feel good and get you swaying to the light groove. They also take the psychedelic sound they explored on their third album even further on tracks like “Cry Baby,” which sounds like it’s straight out of the 60s. The same can be found on lead single “Mess Around,” which has grown on me since I initially heard it. It’s still not the strongest track on the LP, but it’s hard to resist that groove. This song also made me worried the LP would sound too similar to the Black Keys, since this track sounded like something they would do. Luckily, this is as far as the comparison goes.
With each album, the band has been struggling to find their sound and though longtime fans may not like it, it seems they’ve finally found it with this new soft, vintage tone. Songs like “Sweetie Little Jean” and “That’s Right” continue the old school psychedelic vibe with the free flowing guitars, lush rhythms, and swirling beats. “Portuguese Knife Fight” is a notable track that immerses itself in the trippy sound. It begins with this rapid trilling riff before slowing down into this catchy shuffling riff. What’s really cool is how lazy the groove sounds and it gets you swaying like you’ve taken a hit of something. It’s kind of sleepy sounding, like it’s putting you in a trance, but it’s one of the coolest songs on the album.
Throughout the band’s career Matt Shultz has grown as a singer, which you can really hear on this record. He still has the chops to stretch and strain his vocal chords to the point of tearing, but this time around he plays it cool. He croons so sweet and gently on the infectious and thoughtful “Trouble” and he amps up his falsetto on the slow burning “How Are You True.” His voice can still pack a punch, like on the upbeat and funky “Cold, Cold, Cold,” but he never gets to the point of losing control. He also sounds sultry as hell on the best track “Too Late to Say Goodbye.” This is the song that made me excited for the LP: it has this great sexy, bluesy crawl to the music, while Matt manages to sound smokey and lonely at the song’s peak. I always thought Matt was a talented singer and it’s great to hear him push himself to do something different.
The closest the band gets to their really energetic sound is on the fun track “Punchin’ Bag.” It’s an upbeat track with a dirty rock vibe that’s as close to their old sound as you’ll get here. It’s also really catchy with the way Matt sings during the hook “Oh ain’t it a drag/If you take a swing, the kid swing back/She say I’m not your punchin’ bag.” Listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll discover it talks about domestic violence and how the woman has had enough. With such a serious and touchy subject, it’s weird that the music is so upbeat and fun. But it still one of the highlights of the album that’s sure to be even better live.
I was honestly surprised by how good the album is. The first couple of songs I heard from it didn’t do much for me. A part of me was worried it would be too similar to The Black Keys with Dan Auerbach in the producer’s chair. This isn’t the case at all. Though I’ll always miss their wild, unchained sound I fell in love with, their new light, mellow vibe is great too. It’s a different kind of album for the band where they seem comfortable with what they’re doing, yet remain true to themselves. If you have an open mind and don’t hate songs that chill you out instead of riling you up, then you’ll love this album. Now, it’s time to sit back and wait for the tour announcement.