Words by Josh Morgan
Kentucky band Cage the Elephant have been transforming the indie rock world for some time now. Their self-titled debut exploded onto the scene back in 2008, spearheaded by the simple yet brilliant Southern Rock fable Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked. Since then, the band released the hit-and-miss Thank You, Happy Birthday, and 2013’s Melophobia, which tapped into a dreamy, glossier sound. Cage the Elephant now return with their fourth studio album Tell Me I’m Pretty, an authentic and electrifying record.
The album begins in a raw and upbeat manner with Cry-Baby and Mess Around. Guitars sweep and soar, anchored by wild, rattling drums. Leading the way is Matt Shultz’ frantically melodic vocals, all of which blend to build a strong and ecstatic sound.
Produced by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, the psychedelic retro sound that has always been an underlying factor, has now been brought front and centre. You can certainly hear Auerbach’s influence, with the occasional musical similarity to Black Keys, circa-El Camino. Influences are worn loud and proud on some tracks, such as Sweetie Little Jean, and it’s direct homage to The Beach Boys and Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles.
As the songs progress, the album treks into darker territory, an interesting feat that we haven’t seen before from Cage the Elephant. Too Late to Say Goodbye, Cold, Cold, Cold and Trouble edge toward that ominous new ground. In contrast to this, however, are Punchin’ Bag and Portuguese Knife Fight, both of which emulate the band’s earlier and more familiar sound, telling simple, energetic Southern fables.
The album’s main flaw is a thematic one; while the band are clearly wanting to communicate something rare and intriguing, not every song lends itself to such interpretation, with a disappointing number of filler tracks that contribute nothing to the overall sound or atmosphere.
Cage the Elephant have given fans something true, and kind of rare, with its solid production, retro influence and exceptional delivery. While Tell Me I’m Pretty may not be a classic, it’s still pretty damn good, and an interesting step forward for the boys.