Review Summary: An almost masterpiece being held inside an excellent album.
Certain albums will get a Grammy, but have such a mixed reception that it’s a wonder on how that album managed to get said Grammy in the first place. One of these types of albums was Tell Me I’m Pretty from Cage The Elephant. It was the band’s fourth album and their first after their success with Melophobia. The reception for Tell Me I’m Pretty has been all over the place from getting a Grammy to being called to their worst effort to being called “meh”. For my first review, I will take a look back at the divisive album and ask if this album really is the band’s worst.
The music on Tell Me I’m Pretty could be best described as Melophobia Pt.2 in the sense that it’s a rock album with a pop twist to it. Tell Me I’m Pretty takes the pop stuff further and adds more a sixties flavor to the sound. For the most part, this sound works well with Matt Shultz and his passionate vocals and Brad Shultz’s blues-y guitar playing. Jared Champion’s drumming never really impresses, but never hurts the album. He’s a nice backbeat to the rest of the band. That leaves Daniel Tichenor who’s bass playing sounds good, but he’s severely hampered by the production job. Sound-wise if you enjoyed Melophobia then, chances are you’ll enjoy the sound they have here.
You can have a good sound and fall flat on your face if you don’t have the songwriting to support the band’s efforts. Luckily, the band seemed to have improved here from the previous album especially from a lyrical sense. The band had already been improving from the immature nature of their debut and here it’s another leap in maturity for the band. “Sweetie Little Jean” might have some awkward phrasing in certain parts, but it’s a really well-written song. “Cry Baby” starts off the album showcasing some of the themes from Melophobia like death and time. “How Are You True” might be the band’s best acoustic number so far with great lyrics being only marred with an awkward ending. Sadly, some of these songs are noticeable step-back in songwriting like the somewhat grating “That’s Right” and silly writing in “Mess Around”. Still, the writing in songs like “Cold, Cold, Cold”, “Punchin’ Bag”, and the aforementioned “Sweetie Little Jean” make up for the short comers. However, even those weaker songs have their upsides with the performances.
Cage The Elephant have always seemed passionate through their music and that hasn’t died down on this album. Matt Shultz still gives it his all in his singing although he's lacking his crazier moments found on songs like “Indy Kidz” or “Teeth”. That’s balanced out with better melodies then their previous works. “Mess Around” would be a lot worse if it wasn’t for the catchy melodies found throughout the whole thing. Songs like “Trouble” and “Too Late To Say Goodbye” are pretty much using the chorus as a crutch for their shortcomings. There really aren’t any bad melodies found throughout with almost every song having a great chorus with one exception that being “That’s Right”. Brad Shultz isn’t a technical guitarist, but he delivers by putting in great riffs for each song. “Portuguese Knife Fight” has a fantastic riff along with “Cry Baby”. The Shultz brothers are pretty much the highlight of the album. Daniel Tichenor and Jared Champion aren’t bad and do have some moments like the bass playing on “Cold, Cold, Cold” and the drumming on “How Are You True”, but in general they are just kind of in the background and the production isn’t helping any.
I should bring up the elephant in the room when it comes to this album, the production. Dan Auerbach did the production and it’s so obvious as a lot of the songs sound like The Black Keys now. “Mess Around” and “That’s Right” are probably the worst examples because the guitar tone on those sound eerily similar and it’s probably not a coincidence. While the previous albums all had a fuzz-based sound to the guitars, they went completely overboard here. Not all songs are hurt by this production job (“Sweetie Little Jean” and “How Are You True”), but the majority are impacted badly by the choices made here. The biggest issue with the production is the fact the bass playing tends to be buried by everything else. The production is what is really holding this album back from being better than its predecessor as everything else was an improvement.
So, the verdict❓ Well, it’s one of their best albums so far. It’s songwriting is pretty great and the album is never unenjoyable (although “That’s Right” comes close). The production was not the greatest idea and the lead singles are considerably weaker to everything else on the album except for “Cold, Cold, Cold”. Tell Me I’m Pretty probably didn’t deserve a Grammy or anything like that, but it’s a really solid album that contains some of the band’s greatest songs. There’s no reason I can see for this being called the band’s worst, but it’s not their best as it can’t reach the heights of it’s 2013 counterpart. Is it a recommended album? If you like Cage The Elephant, then yes. If you don’t like them, then I wouldn’t bother with this one.
“Sweetie Little Jean”
“Cold, Cold, Cold”
“Portuguese Knife Fight”