Cage The Elephant “Social Cues” Album Review

Whenever someone has asked me what my favorite band is, I have always said, Cage the Elephant. I first discovered this band when I was a freshman in high school (which was about 6 years ago).  Ever since the first day that I listened to “Come a Little Closer,” I have not stopped putting their music on repeat.

Cage the Elephant initially formed in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2006, but they moved to London in 2008, prior to the release of their first album, “Cage the Elephant” that same year. This band has routinely fallen into the genres of indie rock, alternative, punk rock, punk blues, and garage rock (they did win the Grammy for best rock album in 2017). Yet, this group does not want to be tied to just one sound. Throughout their discography, and even just within this album, Cage the Elephant has experimented with different genres and sounds that never fail to disappoint.

Over the summer, Cage the Elephant will depart on a transatlantic tour, and they will co-headline with Beck during their time in the states. Although they won’t be stopping through Salt Lake City this year, I have been fortunate enough to see them perform here twice. I first saw Cage the Elephant during the May of 2014 at The Depot. This concert was almost like my first real concert (or at least my first rock concert). Cage the Elephant was so energetic and lively that they brought a whole new level to their music that I had already fallen in love with. I then saw them again in the summer of 2016 at the Complex. From my first time seeing them, I was excited to see just how much energy they would bring to their show, and I continued to be impressed by the expert level that they took their alternative rock music to at this live performance. So, if you have the chance to catch Cage the Elephant on tour, I would highly recommend it.

“Social Cues” was released on April 19th, and upon my first listen of this new album, I was surprised by just how many different genres are encapsulated within the rock/indie/alternative/punk/blues-sound that Cage the Elephant has developed over the years. Some tracks seem to take more turns towards pop whereas others lean more into their ballad influences. Yet, the tracks are all unified through themes of love, loss, and heartbreak (it’s no surprise that the album was primarily influenced by front man Matt Shultz’s divorce). While I do love this album, I would have loved to see Cage the Elephant return to their more grunge and harsh rock origins that are especially present on their albums “Melophobia” and “Thank You Happy Birthday.” But, it is exciting to see this band explore new genres successfully, and hopefully we’ll continue to see new music from them.

The tracklist and a few thoughts/summaries of each song are as follows:

  1. Broken Boy: harkens back to Cage the Elephant’s grunge rock roots

  2. Social Cues: more alternative rock leaning with some groovy rhythms

  3. Black Madonna: a bit more experimental with slower, jazzy elements (also, listen to “Too Late to Say Goodbye” to see some lyrical similarities)

  4. Night Running – Beck: this is a fun song to sing along to while driving, it’s a bit more pop-rock leaning (side note: Beck is another one of my all time favorite artists, so I was super excited to see this collaboration)

  5. Skin and Bones: a smooth track with strong rock influences

  6. Ready to Let Go: groovy, smooth, a very “Cage the Elephant” song

  7. House of Glass: punchy and energetic with clear rock elements

  8. Love’s the Only Way: the first break from the rock songs of the album, this ballad is soft and gentle, but it is not too different from ballads off of past albums

  9. The War is Over: this slower paced blues-rock track evokes more emotions of heartbreak and loss

  10. Dance Dance: a fun jazzy, groovy, and blues-inspired song

  11. What I’m Becoming: a slowed down, melodic ballad on change and transformations in relationships

  12. Tokyo Smoke: in a more alternative rock style, this track feels anxious and apologetic

  13. Goodbye: this sentimental ballad offers a sense of closure to the album and its emotional turmoil

The tracks, “Ready to Let Go,” “House of Glass,” “Night Running,” and “Goodbye” were released as singles prior to the album’s release. “Ready to Let Go” kicked off the release of singles, and this track feels like a typical Cage the Elephant song that’s punchy and perfectly indie rock. As a single, I was not convinced by “House of Glass,” but within the context of the album, I love its more traditional rock elements. I was surprised by the jazzy and pop influences when I first listened to “Night Running,” but I absolutely loved this collaboration. It combines two of my favorite artists within a song that’s simply fun to listen to. As the last single before the album was released, “Goodbye” seemed like an unexpected choice because it was the most stripped back and emotional track. Yet, with this collection of singles, Cage the Elephant made a choice to highlight their talents across genres.  

As an opening track, “Broken Boy” is an effective first track that reflects Cage the Elephant’s standard genre and sound. This song feels like a homecoming to something familiar, yet in relation to their recent music, it seems a bit more experimental as it returns to a more grunge rock sound.

On this album, I don’t think any songs stand out as starkly different from the rest. The flow of the album makes sense, but each song either seems to be an emotional, ballad-like track or one that is more upbeat with more alternative rock elements. So, because the songs fall into two main categories, they all feel like they belong as they work together to collectively depict emotions around love and loss.  

For a closing song, I don’t think there’s one that would fit better than “Goodbye.” Both in terms of the lyrical content and the musical styling, this track offers a clear sense of closure to the album’s emotional discussions.

My favorite lyrics from the album are:

  • “It’s an illusion, this admiration / of mutilation, my isolation” – House of Glass
  • “Live fast, die young, pay the price / the best die young, immortalized / starry-eyed children left behind / to choose their favorite vice” – Social Cues
  • “You make up the rules or so they claim / one day you’ll find life’s not a game” – Love’s the Only Way

My top three favorite songs from the album are:

  • Skin and Bones
  • Black Madonna
  • Broken Boy

Overall, this album effectively blends and explores old and new genres while meditating on heartbreak, reconciliation, and emotional transformations.

If you’re looking for artists similar to Cage the Elephant, I’d recommend listening to Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Young the Giant, The Wombats, OK Go, Castlecomer, and Barns Courtney.

If I had to give this album a rating, I would give it 4.5/5 stars. I love the experimentation with different genres, but at times it feels like an incomplete experiment. They test out new sounds while remaining cohesive, but I feel like they could have slightly pushed the boundaries further. But, I am happy nonetheless to have new music from Cage the Elephant, and I hope to see them continue this blending of genres in their future music releases.

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5