Cage the Elephant experiments with grunge


Zane Fletcher

When Cage the Elephant burst onto the scene in 2009 with their first self-titled album, many instantly fell in love with the hard rocking, guitar heavy, poetry-filled songs such as “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “James Brown”.

Their musical progression is easily defined: starting with “Thank You Happy Birthday” (2011), then “Melo-phobia” (2013) and finally their most recent album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” (2015), Cage the Elephant has strayed away from their hard driving rock and ventured more into indie acoustics with only scattered remnants of their former sound.

Whereas “Melophobia” seemed to signal a return to the style of “Cage the Elephant” with songs such as “Take It or Leave It” and “Spiderhead,” “Tell Me I’m Pretty” abandoned this swing, and instead became more fixated on slow, drawn out vocals and soft drumming.

This is not to say that “Tell Me I’m Pretty” is not a good album, because it really is. Yet it lacks a certain panache that was present in the band’s earlier efforts. It is important to listen to the album with a different mindset – a Cage the Elephant lifer might miss the aforementioned guitar licks, but an outside listener could find enjoyment in the soft acoustics and meandering voice.

There are definitely two highlight songs on the album: “Cry Baby,” the introductory track, and “Sweetie Little Jean” are up tempo, warm songs that invite comparisons to “Melophobia”.

“Cry Baby” experiments with some of the grungier guitar of “Cage the Elephant” while also using the characteristic slow, winding vocals of the rest of the album. It serves as a great introduction to the album for those who are used to the older music, as well as those new to the band’s sound.

Another quicker song follows, titled “Mess Around”. The track utilizes some of the iconic guitar sound from “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” – the partially acoustic strumming, partially driving guitar. Sandwiched between “Cry Baby” and “Sweetie Little Jean” (about which we will talk next), “Mess Around” is a great transition to the rest of the album in its further progression from the sound of old to that of the new.

“Sweetie Little Jean,” probably my favorite song from the album, has a catchy hook and great base drums and guitar riffs. If “Jean” is the harbinger of the new Cage the Elephant, then I look forward to the future of the band. Though a lot of the grunginess of their beginning is lost in the track, it makes up for it with a beautiful harmony and quick tempo. It is undoubtedly one of the most “jammable” songs on the album.

Overall, the album doesn’t have a bad song on it – but it’s different than one might expect. While many might miss the sound of the early existence of the band, it is easy to forget about the style when engaged in “Tell Me I’m Pretty”. Cage the Elephant has undergone a tremendous transformation from the raw, rock n’ roll band we first met in 2009. Instead, they are now a complicated, sophisticated unit with a variety of different sounds and methods. The diversification of many artists often fails or is met with resistance, but Cage the Elephant’s slow movement over six years has allowed listeners a softer impact and, resultantly, greater plea-sure.

“Tell Me I’m Pretty” is an album that appeals to many music listeners, and should stand as one of the most complete works of 2015.


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