Cage the Elephant - Social Cues

5.7/10

Favorite Track: "Social Cues" Least Favorite Track: "Goodbye"


Social Cues is the fifth studio album by Kansas rock band Cage the Elephant. Social Cues is an interesting mark in the band's somewhat mixbag of a discography as it marks an interesting change of pace for some of their instrumental style and more than anything a huge change of pace for frontman Matt Shultz. Let me just say that Social Cues is a grower. The more you listen to this album the more you’re going to like it. This could be due to the fact that opposed to Cage The Elephant’s previous work this LP is a lot fuller and more detailed instrumentally, therefore it’s much more rewarding and possible to uncover some of the instrumental technicalities and little extra touches when you get into replaying this album multiple times. The band is certainly embracing the fact that they are now a six-man collective and have the ability to make their sound a little more crowded and complete. However, after listening to this record many times I think I can confidently say that I am more of a fan of older Cage The Elephant. I think records like their debut and Thank You Happy Birthday and even Melophobia had a lot more flavor, especially vocally and that leads me to my main problem with Social Cues. Vocally, Matt Shultz has made a huge transition in his sound in pretty much every single song here with the exception of a few (Ready To Let Go). Shultz is more vocally subdued than we have ever heard him. This does add to the overall moody and gloomy vibe of the record which is all fine, but it truly takes all the passion and emotion out of his voice. That passionate and emotional vocal performance that we are used to from older tracks in the bands discog like “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”, and “Tiny Little Robots” is completely gone and his delivery has turned completely bland. Another gripe I have is that this record is very weak for the most part lyrically, but honestly at this point, it's not a surprise from a Cage The Elephant album. For example the painstakingly cringey and flavorless lyrics in the chorus on “House Of Glass” ; “Its an Illusion, this admiration, of mutilation, my isolation, its an illusion, this admiration, of mutilation, my isolation, my isolation, my isolation, its an illusion”. This LP also has virtually no coherencency through the track list. It feels like more of a collection of tracks rather than a cohesive album. You get the picture at this point, there is a lot wrong with Social Cues but what is confusing is through all of these flaws, the core and bulk of the tunes are for the most part quite decent and rather enjoyable. In addition, I think this is the best and most creative I have ever heard the guitars on a Cage The Elephant project, and that’s due to some amazing work by Brad Shultz. For example the quirky riff on the title track “Social Cues” is very enjoyable. This LP kicks off with one of it’s darkest and most punk inspired offerings with “Broken Boy”. I didn’t have much to say regarding the track other than that it underwhelmed me and was a weak intro, but it does do a decent job at presenting the moody aesthetic that is plastered all over Social Cues. In contrast, the next track; “Social Cues” is infectious. As I mentioned before I love the spacey, fun, synth-filled, Mac DeMarco esc guitar riff and the track is one of the more solid on the album lyrically. Another highlight for me was track #5; “Skin and Bones”. The progression on this track is absolutely great and it builds on itself flawlessly. There’s also these really epic soundings synths that carry the momentum into the last go-around of the chorus very well, it builds sort of this grand conclusion to the track. One of the only transitions on this LP that I think really works well, is the one between Track’s #5 and #6 ; “Skin and Bones”, into the first single that really “wowed” me in “Ready To Let Go”. “Ready To Let Go”, is sort of a ballad gone punk with an amazing vocal melody that explodes into a great hook and themes regarding Shultz recent divorce with his wife. I like the transition between these two tracks so much because they really share something in tone and theme. They both deal with issues of moving forward and continuing with your life in a positive way, and they flow really well into each other. One of the most disappointing aspects about Social Cues for me was both of the more sentimental tracks on here. I have said before, how much I love Matt Shultz voice in a slower, more emotional, track but on both “Goodbye” and “Love’s The Only Way”, he throws absolutely nothing behind his voice. You would think with everything that Matt Shultz has been going through recently with his divorce and the loss of some important people in his life that he would be able to convey his emotions a little easier, but on both of these tracks he truly sounds dead and so lackluster. Neither of these tracks have the same draw as other ballads in Cage The Elephants discog such as “Cigarette Daydreams” or “Shake Me Down”. I also think “Goodbye” really didn't serve well as the outro to this LP. Another dud for me was “What I’m becoming”. This in a similar way to the tracks I previously mentioned is so sleepy and so genuinely boring. The fact that sentimental tracks like these feel the way they did on Social Cues was very disappointing for me, especially considering the fuel the band had to write them about. More than anything, Social Cues is inconsistent. It's a definite transition and evolution for Cage The Elephant but more than anything ; it's inconsistent.

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