Review Summary: The most unsettling thing about Cage the Elephant's third studio album is that it's so settled itself.
During the recording of Thank You, Happy Birthday
, Cage the Elephant
frontman Matt Shultz said he wanted each of the album’s songs “to sound like it’s been written by a different band.” Truth be told, it really did sound varied, a cornucopia of diverse musical influences that, above all odds, made the album more immersing than distracting. But that makes it very hard to believe that the band’s third studio album, Melophobia
, is from the same band. While Thank You, Happy Birthday
was an eclectic album that, shockingly, didn’t distract in the least, Melophobia
doesn’t divert from its completely different trajectory in the slightest. It’s a surprisingly settled record, one that abandons that intentional lack of assurance the band blossomed with in their previous record.
Cage the Elephant’s energetic and rambunctious punk style present in their debut has left the building; these guys have taken a lot of chill pills since “In One Ear.” Soothing distortion effects quell the razor-sharp punk fundamentals the band demonstrated early on in their music career; it’s a smoother and dreamier album. Vocalist Matt Shultz himself has clearly been listening to a lot of MGMT
, as his screams are replaced with falsetto and sliding melodies across tracks like “Take It or Leave It” or “Black Widow” (the latter being a clear callback to MGMT’s “Electric Feel”).
“It’s Just Forever” brings The Kills
’ Alison Mosshart on board as guest vocalist (an appropriate choice considering how similar Melophobia
sounds to the music from Mosshart’s other band, The Dead Weather). Mosshart’s grimy, bluesy singing style is a great contribution to the track, where guitarists Lincoln Parish and Brad Shultz grind and muffle their sounds with near-constant distortion. Daniel Tichenor’s smooth bass guitar lines are all the more noticeable in Melophobia
; the slower pace tones down the power-chord guitar blitzkriegs and effect-laden falsetto of Matt Shultz. The band’s love of classic alt rock like The Pixies
and modern indie like MGMT is front and center on Melophobia
. Songs like the swoony “Hypocrite” are clean fodder for the pop crowd, sounding like something that wouldn’t be out of place on a modern Gorillaz
A huge exception to this newly established rule for Cage the Elephant is “Teeth,” a revving rocker that, while not reaching the blistering pace of “Judas” from their debut album or “Indy Kidz” from Thank You, Happy Birthday
, still shows that these Kentucky outsiders still have the chops to go nuts in the recording studio. The song makes a big left-turn after the first half, with Matt Shultz narrating in a muffled, but poetic manner. It’s probably the only concrete example of Cage the Elephant’s now-distant past on the album.
Thank You, Happy Birthday
was the work of a band in adolescence, steadily moving into maturity, but still not experienced enough to make something pristinely clean and refined enough to be called “grown-up.” The melody was stronger and the abrasion wasn’t as undefined. It was rough, but that remainder of exciting childhood rebellion is what made Thank You, Happy Birthday
so remarkable. The ballads were complimented by ravenous alt-punk intensity; it was a scrambled gem not unlike R.E.M.’s Green
is a harder animal to get excited about since that juvenile spirit is not the focus anymore (or even visually present at all).
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Well, Cage the Elephant does take this shift in sound very seriously. This is by no means an imitational album; the band members’ love and reverence for The Beatles
is all the clearer, which allows for melody and songwriting to stand in place of unbound energy. The first single “Come a Little Closer” has a marvelous, echoing guitar slide during the chorus, all with Matt Shultz mixing up his vocals with falsetto and lower, almost hushed mumble. But this single, oddly enough, represents what Cage the Elephant are trying to go for with Melophobia
: steady, classic rock-influenced music instead of crowd-brewing mosh pit adrenaline. It’s not a bad decision that the band is letting their Beatles and Beach Boys fandoms come alive; it’s just a very abrupt decision.
is not going to be met with instant acclaim, especially if you got into Cage the Elephant through their debut album. Even those who loved Thank You, Happy Birthday
will find the more constructed and less raw aesthetic of Melophobia
to be very disorienting. The band has proved their commitment to evolution in a tight and admirable way, but in that way, they’ve abandoned a big part of what got them such a following to begin with. Gone is the loose punk world, replaced with an emotive and brewing development that focuses more on careful buildup than imprecision. Cage the Elephant have officially grown up with Melophobia
, and while some will appreciate the band’s metamorphosis into “think first” musicians, some will just want the band to stay kids forever.