Al Pash Reviews Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues”

Al Pash Reviews Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues”


Al Pash slips on her vans, tilts back her recliner, and cranks the speaker up to 10, as she tackles Cage the Elephant’s newest release. This album is an introspective night drive that will leave you howling at the moon, circling the depths of your internal struggles, while looking towards the hope-filled horizon.


Put on your headphones and prepare for take off, as “Broken Bones” — the first track off Cage the Elephant’s fifth studio album Social Cues–places your conscious in the control pit of a NASA space ship. The slow and ominous oscillation of the synth pads seeps into your mind, as percussive clankings set the song’s tempo. The edgy snare roll signals the blast off, and thus begins the journey of Social Cues.

Listeners will be comforted by the familiarity reflecting Cage’s previous work, while also offering new lyrical sentiments that depict messages of both hopefulness and frustration. Themes range from topics like the pitfalls and misconceptions of the music business, crumbling relationships, inner demons, and America’s tortuous political climate.

The title track “Social Cues” addresses the misinterpretations surrounding fame and success in the music industry. Its refrain, “At least you’re on the radio” highlights the misconstrued perception people have about the lavish luxuries that follow artists’ success. Frontman Matt Schultz wrestles with the lifestyle he has grown accustomed to, including the vices rock stars have traditionally used to cure both mental and physical exhaustion. The playful bass line and the elevator-music-like synth reflect similar qualities of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” breeding a sense of nostalgic familiarity within the listener.


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The engineering of Schultz’s vocals on Social Cues are identical to the previous four albums, treated by a signal chain of radio-like distortion. Each plosive word sounds like shrapnel cutting through the oxygen-free atmosphere, waiting to shred any interfering obstacle. The punky angst achieved by these engineering decisions is what makes Cage’s music such a widely utilized outlet for emotional release. The driving bass lines, teeth clenching guitar tones, and garage rock drums liberates listeners from their pent up frustrations, and lays a foundation for the ultimate jam out.

The album is sprinkled with subtle gems, including “Black Madonna.” The track opens with a drum solo that gradually picks up tempo, foreshadowing elements of psychedelia. Historically, the Black Madonna is a Polish Relic, symbolizing the long and mysterious trans-racial significance of Christ. This track may be representative of potential infidelity in Shultz’s recently ended marriage, with suggestive lines such as “you say that you’re at home alone right now, but in the background there’s a muffled laugh as you spin that wool and pull it down.” Apart from the lyrical content, this track has a trance vibe, representing a departure from their traditional style and reflecting influence from electronic artists like Daft Punk.

Another track that touches upon dwindling relationships is “Ready to Let Go,” the tune Shultz wrote encapsulating the moment you and your loved one realize that your time together is approaching its end. The distorted bass guitar pulls at your heartstrings, guiding you through the resolution of a long winded run at love. There is a glimmer of optimism and thoughtfulness in the lyrics, showing no sign of disdain towards his counterpart.


Cage the Elephant. Photo by Neil Krug

The band added novel toys to their instrument rack including a mellotron and electric steel pedal, introducing metallic and synth elements. The adoption of these components were influenced by producer, John Hill, referred to Shultz by members of Portugal. the Man. The increased use of colorful synths is indicative of Hill’s involvement in this project, highlighting the main contrast between Social Cues and Cage’s four late albums.

The manipulated keyboard riffs of “Tokyo Smoke” will launch you into a spooky splendor, sounding as if it belongs in a Halloween themed playlist. This track definitely contributes to the bands psychedelia trademark that lingers in the distant soundscape.

One common theme expressed lyrically regards personal detangling of life’s confusing web, and efforts of self-realization. Tracks including, “Night Running,” the aforementioned “Tokyo Smoke,” and “Skin and Bones” convey this reoccurring theme. Twice during the album Shultz refers to himself as an “Alien”, which symbolizes feelings of isolation–another sentiment present throughout the album.




The album’s grunge-driven rock anthems are pleasantly disrupted by three tranquil tracks “Love’s the Only Way”, What I’m Becoming,” and “Goodbye,” which resemble one another sonically, but differ in lyrical content. The first introduces another sonic anomaly; strings! The trill of the violins cleanse our rock-saturated pallets, as our sonic spaceship transitions from its explosive take off towards a morphine dripped ride into the weightless abyss. The sulky, depressed motif has a “Rubber Ball”-esque feel, that will resonate deeply with fans. This tune expresses the sadness and devastation of life’s inevitable struggles, but rings with a sense of hopefulness for the changing future.

The second track referred to above, “What I’m Becoming” illustrates the self defeating emotions entangled in the complications of a dissolving relationship. This is another tune that will put your conscious on a musical morphine drip, but also reflect a James Bond swank with the playful, electric strings. Definitely a neat listen!

The final track “Goodbye”, must have been the easy choice to conclude the album, as it reflects on the acceptance of an ending relationship; in this case, the ending of Shultz’s marriage. The piano accompaniment glides our sonic shuttle further into our internal universe, almost as if we are succumbing to inevitabilities of life, and emotionally drifting from our prior struggles.

Oftentimes bands receive negative reviews when their music too similarly reflects their previous work. Contrary to this belief, I find solace and comfort in steadfast material, especially coming from bands that already have a defined sound. Cage the Elephant is arguably one of the decades best modern rock bands, and listeners can rest assured knowing that the band held true to their sonic roots.

Score: an old friend who looks the same, but something’s changed.