Review Summary: If you listen carefully enough, it’s possible to distinguish the sounds of a band finding their feet.
Around about two years ago Cage the Elephant introduced themselves to the music scene with a bang. In One Ear
, the single which identified the group's ambitions, was a swashbuckling assault of the senses; a channel for the band’s fractious spirit, bound together by tight instrumentation and an unforgettable chorus. Unfortunately the rest of their self-titled debut album failed to compound on the mesmeric reverie that the lead single induced and as a result any underlying themes of revolt were watered down and lost amongst the mediocrity. With their sophomore effort, it’s clear that in the two years since Cage the Elephant
was unleashed on the masses the band that crafted it are long gone. In their place a newly mature group have formed and where the personnel remain the same, the collective attitude has altered remarkably.
The biggest difference apparent on Thank You, Happy Birthday
is the dramatic shift in influences. The bluesy funk-rock that made up Cage the Elephant
has been replaced by a diverse collection of alt-rock and post-punk in order to appeal to a wider audience. On the Pixies-esque Aberdeen
and the fantastically ironic Indy Kidz
, vocalist Matt Shultz flaunts a wide array of talent and his ability to change at will from a high pitched yelp to a murmured drawl hints at a new found proficiency. However, as if to balance out these highpoints, a fragility of the record can be found just round the corner. Being the most similar in sound to their debut album, it’s somewhat surprising that 2024
is the weakest track on the album with easily forgettable riffs and shaky vocals. Similarly disappointing is the following effort Sell Yourself
, where another unusually poor vocal performance impedes an otherwise well-structured track. Missteps like this are only to be expected, of course, but the overall result of Thank You, Happy Birthday
is an emotional tenderness that was absent for so much of Cage the Elephant
. Perhaps the best example of this new found intimacy is on Right Before My Eyes
, where the urgency takes a hard-earned break in favour of building an emotional connection with the listener. The radio friendly nature of the track points toward a single release, and its succinct, perceptive lyrics are even better second time round, set acoustically at the back end of Flow
In a way, Thank You, Happy Birthday
suffers from the same basic flaw that its predecessor did, namely that there are simply too many average tracks for an album with such lofty pretensions. The audible changes were made too rapidly to remain faultless and the band overstretches on a regular basis, leading to an uneven listening experience. Despite this issue it remains a record that’s impossible to dislike. Throughout, vocalist Matt Shultz gives off the aura of a great, and though it’s impossible to transmit the unrestricted unity and atmosphere of a show onto a record, be damned if Cage the Elephant don’t try. And in the end, this is the biggest surprise about Thank You, Happy Birthday
because for all the restrained energy and would-be rebellion that Cage the Elephant
contained it is nothing compared to the indomitable connection found here.
Thank You, Happy Birthday
is many things to Cage the Elephant. Aside from the obvious it’s a new-found method of escape from the oppression that was name dropped so abundantly on their debut album but it’s also a record that sees them progress at a fundamental level; this is the album of a band that finally realises their own hypocrisy. At the end of the day, if they continue to improve at a steady rate, then Cage the Elephant will achieve great things. For this potential to be realised, a quality control factor needs to be introduced to any subsequent releases, with sub-par tracks discarded so that the really good ones can stand amongst equals. Whether or not this will happen is a question only Mr Shultz and company can answer but if Thank You, Happy Birthday
is anything to go by, then I wouldn’t bet against it.
Right Before My Eyes
Overall 3.0 Good