Something heavy, something painful, is left behind on Social Cues.
Cage The Elephant's fifth album is an exercise in catharsis, verging on exorcism. The Kentucky band's strain of infectious, flinty rock reinvents itself with exhilarating intent and depth, as lead singer Matt Shultz pushes his signature yowl to its vocal and emotional limits. The first singles from Social Cues, "Ready To Let Go" and "House Of Glass," sounded oddly contiguous from their last release, Tell Me I'm Pretty, which begged the question of whether or not Cage might have stagnated. In context, though, the songs are refractions of a sonic atmosphere that Cage masterfully sustains for the album's entire length: the sleek, melancholy indie of Tell Me I'm Pretty is (genuinely, lovingly) forged with the fuzzy garage rock of their early days, becoming a testament to their growth as artists. And this sense of culmination is vital to how Social Cues works: the biggest draw of this album isn't its sound, but the story it's telling.
Not only is Social Cues the best-written Cage The Elephant offering to date, it's also conceivably one of the better breakup albums of the the last few years. Social Cues paints a relationship's demise with a painfully vivid brush, illuminating denial, bitterness, hopelessness, and fear in arresting detail. "Don't know if I can play this part much longer," Shultz confesses over the plinking title track, and the album spins out in a hundred directions from this line: fear of what remains when love fades, an excruciating desire for escape, and losing faith in love itself. Social Cues takes the many facets of a breakup, from petty to existential and everything in between, and gives them all generous emotional weight. Listen to the contemplative ballad "Love's The Only Way," the casually callous "Black Madonna," or the nightmare rock of "Night Running" and "Tokyo Smoke"—all the songs have their moments of sonic clarity and creativity, but first and foremost, they're tales in the album's mythology of how a heart breaks.
"Goodbye"—a heartfelt farewell to a relationship, without a shred of irony—closes the album and rightly feels like the end of a long journey. "Goodbye" embraces necessary acceptance as the only conclusion to lost love, an acceptance that does not undo what good might have come out of that love. Cage The Elephant, five albums in, understands the value of letting an ending just be what it is.
Matthew Apadula is a writer and music critic from New York. His work has previously appeared on GIGsoup Music and in Drunk in a Midnight Choir. Find him on Twitter @imdoingmybest.
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