Some might have assumed that Cage the Elephant hit the pinnacle of their career when they won the GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Album for 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty. The sextet that was born in Kentucky and lives in Tennessee was four albums deep at that point, had a few hits, and was now critically acclaimed. But it would have been a mistake to think the band was ready to rest on its laurels, and they’ve just proven they have a lot more to give.
Cage the Elephant is back four years later with Social Cues. The songwriting has gone to another level as a result of the conundrum of great art: negative experiences = a free-flowing pen that drips out relatable words. Frontman Matt Schultz lost a marriage and two friends during the last few years, and he gets right to the pain on the opening track “Broken Boy.”
A wall of ominous sound gives way to an upbeat grove, before Schultz offers a reality check: “Tell me why I’m forced to live in this skin. I'm an alien.” But it’s not just lyrically where Cage advances. The songs benefit from more complex arrangements and denser production, like on “Ready to Let Go,” where Schultz addresses his failed marriage: “We both knew this day was coming. As we slow dance, I became your statue frozen. Times I wonder, are we just a puff of smoke?”
Beck joins Cage on “Night Running,” an immediate possibility for a live collaboration since the two will co-headline a tour this summer. “The War is Over” marches forward as rows of guitars and keyboards follow suit as the chorus kicks in, making it one of the musical highlights of Social Cues. It’s safe to say the prime of Cage the Elephant’s career will last a while.