REVIEW: Cage The Elephant depicts fallen relationships with ‘Social Cues’

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After winning a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album with 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, expectations are high for Cage The Elephant‘s fifth album. Social Cues introduces the band’s most toned-down and subdued collection of songs. It gets personal with singer Matt Schultz’s personal life, detailing the unraveling of his marriage. Lovesick and apologetic, Social Cues keeps things interesting with a lot of attention drawn to Schultz’s voice and story.

Social Cues
Cage The Elephant
RCA Records, April 19

On single “Ready to Let Go,” an upbeat vibe elaborates on the mindset Schultz was in when he realized his marriage was over. With quick and punchy guitar plucks and uptempo percussion, the topic of finally letting go comes into focus: “On holy ground our vows were broken/ We met up, we broke bread/ I was blue, your dress was red, ain’t it strange?/ We both knew this day was coming.” This track has a way of presenting this sensitive subject with a hopeful feeling of moving forward despite the devastation.

“Love’s The Only Way,” with its melancholic touch, is a lovely stripped-back ballad based in elegant string leads, alongside finger-picked electric guitar and bass. “One day you’ll find life’s not a game/ It’s not the wave that moves the sea/ But the sea that move the waves,” Schultz sings with caring in his delivery. The track brings beauty to simplicity—a nice change of pace within the record’s instrumental and lyrical progression.

“Night Running” provides a respite from Schultz’s heartbreak. The only collaboration on Social Cues, co-written by and featuring Beck, it fuses rock and reggae. It incorporates a saxophone, a rapped bridge and back-and-forth lyrics. Shultz and Beck make an incredible duo. Their voices play off of one another, never sounding forced or out of place. “Night Running” is one of the most upbeat on the album, emphasizing electric guitar and brass.

Where “Love’s The Only Way” brings back cinematic sobriety, “What I’m Becoming” is the apologetic partner sung in layered lower and higher registers, and nuanced harmonies. With an empathetic vocal delivery, string section and slow finger-picked guitar, it pulls at the heartstrings of listeners: “Everything you wanted/ Seems so far from me/ Never meant to hurt you, Never meant to make you cry/ I’m so sorry honey/ For what I’m becoming.”

Social Cues goes to its most melancholic state with closer, “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye/ I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry/ Lord knows how hard we tried/ It’s all right, goodbye/ Goodbye,” Shultz sings over low and somber piano chords and a crescendoing string section. You’d expect a record about a failing marriage to be a sad one, but this track brings those emotions out in full force.

There is no escaping a sense of heartbreak when it comes to a breakup album, but Social Cues doesn’t bring down the mood. At times, it pulls at the heartstrings and brings empathy for Schultz, but there’s also a good mix of uptempo sing-along tracks to keep the mood up in the face of pessimism. This balances this record.

Follow writer Carly Van Den Broeke at Twitter.com/carlyrosevdb.

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