There’s always been something different about Cage The Elephant. Like they’re just a bit off. What can we even call their music? They don’t fit in with the garage rock crowd alongside The White Stripes or The Black Keys, they’ve got too much in common with more progressive artists like The Pixies or Wavves. Yet they’ve got a bit too much of a menacing swagger about them to stay within the confines of college rock. But one thing is certain: Cage The Elephant is not the wave of the future. Though touted by the likes of the NME as the next big thing in music (although they recently named The Strokes’ debut ‘Is This It’ as the 4th best album of all time, ahead of any Nirvana album, so what do they know about music?), they’re far too indebted to their influences to be able to move on and take the leap towards artistic independence. While their influences are eclectic, and props to them for resisting being pigeonholed, they’re really not doing much with them. That’s not to say they’re bad at what they do, as they make some very good songs, in some cases perhaps better than some of the artists they so clearly pay homage to, but that doesn’t equate to incredibly innovative music as the case would have it with ‘Melophobia.’
But that does not diminish the charm the band so clearly possesses. While it’s hard not to smirk to the goofiness of the opening lines of “Telescope,” the strong Modest Mouse sound of the track vindicates the track as the seemingly underdeveloped lyrics are joined by delicate strings and dreamy guitar strumming, and is reminiscent of “Shake Me Down” from the band’s previous album as a departure from the more raucous nature of the rest of the album. But while it is slower and quieter, the basic personality of boyish naivete is not lost on the following track, “It’s Just Forever,” where a quagmire of a Ty Segall throwaway occurs. It’s almost irritating in its grittiness, but placing the wildly different tracks one after the other serves to highlight the eclectic nature of the band’s sound.
While these tracks aren’t bad, it’s where the band sounds less like someone else that they succeed. Tracks like the propulsive “Spiderman,” with its lurching, punchy bassline bearing some strong similarities to “Aberdeen,” one of the best tracks from ‘Thank You, Happy Birthday,’ but infused with more sleaze and cynicism, with frontman Matthew Schultz’s recently perfected falsetto stealing the show with its stadium rock grandeur. “Come A Little Closer,” the lead single, is probably the best track as well as the most refined testament to their newfound approach to psychedelic rock in that it doesn’t try too hard, with the minor exception of lyrics like “do you understand/the things that you can’t see.” Later on as the album starts to hint at a weak finish consisting of filler, the band comes out of left field with the exuberant “Teeth,” which, while the band has moved away from blatant Pixies rip-offs on ‘Melophobia,’ Shultz does a convincing impression of Frank Black, and as the cacophonous rocker devolves into a bizarre pastiche of classic Tom Waits, it’s clear that to ever write this band off as commercial, formulaic, or bland would be a brash mistake.
While it seems that Cage The Elephant, on the whole, prefers to get a grip on their influences rather than do something truly revolutionary, bright spots interspersed throughout prove that it is entirely within their capacity to be far more than just another alt-rock band. And while it may be an album or two down the road, given some time to grow and mature, Cage The Elephant could indeed be the underdog success story of this decade.
Recommended Tracks: Spiderhead, Come A Little Closer, Teeth