Cage the Elephant’s biggest problem is that it sounds like every other indie rock band you’ve already heard. It’s hard to figure out whether they’re a louder version of the Pixies, a parallel to the rock duo White Stripes, a daring counterpart of the Strokes or even the American Arctic Monkeys. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. On its new album Melophobia, Cage the Elephant redefines itself with a more contemporary motif. The album is a modern experimentation, a compilation of colliding rhythms and rolling beats, charged with a noise that echoes and resonates.
Since its earlier hit “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” Cage the Elephant has been following a pseudo-English rock method; its second album Thank You, Happy Birthday saw members mixing obscure noises and the satisfying, beautiful filth that is hard-screeching guitar. Their songs are hard to pin down to an overarching theme and the lyrics are vague and often nonsensical, which is in many ways their most appealing characteristic. The song “Shake Me Down” boasts a resounding weather motif as some representation of emotion, with Matthew Schultz keeping “his eyes fixed on the sun…even on a cloudy day.” This detail may seem irrelevant, but in many songs the lyrics are confusing and pointless, forcing the listener to draw strange conclusions from the dream-like metaphors. The lyrics are rarely the focus.
Melophobia is slightly more risqué than their previous work, a tone that begins with the weird, unsettling album artwork (which is increasingly common among indie bands trying to establish their own unique image). The sounds are edgy, and Schultz’s voice is heavy and phased by a sort of techno-fog in many of the songs. The album also includes the band’s recent single “Come a Little Closer,” a perfect exemplification of the previous point. The lyrics are smoldering and the background noise keeps the music absorbed in its own experimentation.
A key standout is the song “Hypocrite,” which opens with a catchy drum tumble and a happy-to-be-unhappy guitar progression, giving way to one of the band’s typical, pop-like choruses. A strange, puzzling contrast is “Teeth,” with its electronically morphed lyrics forming the words “I can feel it in my teeth,” a confusing proclamation reeking of Lychian randomness. Wait till the end of the song, which becomes a dream-like segue into a jazzy trumpet combination plagued by poetic language, including lyrics about a “megalomaniac” who “worships the sound of his own voice” and an odd personification of the world as a sexualized woman. It’s confusing but worth it, just to hear Schultz rant on the iniquities of the music industry.
“Telescope” brands the Kentucky band as another group of existentially confused young misfits. The appearance of Alison Mosshart on the track “It’s Just Forever” is slightly confusing, as she mimics the deep howl of the Heart sisters and tries to fit into a complex agenda a bit beyond her unspectacular vocal range. One of the album’s best, “Spiderhead,” contains much of the same rhythmic allure of the band’s previous album, yet with a shock of innovation and musical initiative that signals maturation. Through Melophobia, Cage the Elephant makes its new sound’s debut with a daring mixture of rock, alternative and a techno undercurrent that pulses through each verse.
3.5 out of 5 stars