Review Summary: Cage the Elephant's sophomore release is a surprisingly fantastic one.
I have a strange appreciation for Cage the Elephant. I’m not a fan of garage rock, but they have a sarcastic attitude that I can’t help but love. Their debut album wasn’t really my cup of tea, but “Thank You, Happy Birthday” is surprisingly great. The sound swings between garage rock and folk, with some songs that are intentionally messy and loud, and others that are much slower and quieter. Although I’d be lying if I said I don’t prefer the latter, I can’t help but enjoy just about every track on the album for one reason or another. For some, it’s their appealing sound, while for others it’s the sarcastic but meaningful lyrics.
Cage the Elephant’s sound is very unique in that it changes drastically from song to song. Vocalist Matthew Shultz is capable of intimate vocals, as well as high screams, and the rest of the band follows suit accordingly. But despite the band’s wide range of sounds, the album never feels inconsistent. There’s a fantastic balance of garage rock and indie rock, and the way the songs are arranged makes for an album that never lingers too long on one style, and as a result is quite diverse and interesting.
The band’s lyrics change in style between songs as well. In the glorious “Indy Kidz”, Shultz ironically exclaims “it’s so easy to step aside and walk in line like all the rest,” as he describes hipsters and indie kids in a sarcastic but truthful way. “Shake Me Down” is significantly less sarcastic, and features a great opening. And the way it picks up, just so that it can slow down abruptly and then pick up again at the end, is fantastic. “2024” is a solid track, albeit a pretty forgettable one with a somewhat weak vocal performance from Shultz. Meanwhile, album opener “Aberdeen” is one of the album’s best, with an awesome chorus and strong vocals. The lyrics aren’t too shabby either, seemingly referring to Shultz’s previous drug addiction.
I feel like I should mention “Around My Head”, because it’s a track that a lot of people don’t seem to particularly care for. I find the track to be extremely catchy, and as I’ve mentioned several times before, I appreciate the snide lyrics. “I don’t think it’s very nice/To walk around my head all night” is a great chorus, and Shultz’s vocals are strong throughout. After some electric guitar and drum-heavy garage rock tunes in the form of “Sabertooth Tiger” and “Japanese Buffalo”, we get to “Flow”, which is short and sweet. A slower and much more quiet song than the rest of the album, it’s also one of the best, not least of all because it includes an acoustic version of the fantastic “Right Before My Eyes”.
There are some weak tracks here, such as the aforementioned “2024”, which isn’t particularly noteworthy, as well as the annoying “Sell Yourself”, which mainly consists of Shultz yelling “Sell yourself/Don’t be a fool” over and over with some unremarkable instrumental work going on. Those are really the only two disappointments, which is surprising considering the amount of ambition displayed here. Overall, “Thank You, Happy Birthday” is an excellent album for fans of indie rock. Cage the Elephant has a style all their own, and I can’t wait to see where they go with it.