Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues,” the American rock band’s fifth studio album, might appeal to its veteran fans, whose die-hard attitude toward the group will keep them listening if only out of loyalty. But maybe that’s the reason to reject “Social Cues” — an album composed entirely of elements listeners are already familiar with.
The band has yet again created an album brimming with grisly electric guitar, stimulating drum beats and the growls of lead singer Matt Shultz’s vocals — these once former strengths now becoming the album’s downfall. Though the album is disappointing as a whole, the songs themselves aren’t made poorly and, in fact, can be enjoyed on their own. But because the band has failed to vary the types of songs it produced for this album, repetitive mediocrity is the only thing left.
Leading the charge is “Broken Boy,” a song that follows the indie-rock formula to near perfection. This is a song about being an outsider, and it’s complete with gyrating guitar riffs, elongated artificial screeches and edgy garbage rock vocals. Familiarity runs rampant. What’s disappointing is that the song is actually well executed, but listeners can’t appreciate “Broken Boy” because of songs later in the album, including “House of Glass” and “Dance, Dance,” two songs with beats and basslines uncomfortably similar to the style and technique of “Broken Boy.” As a sad result, “Broken Boy” is propelled into ambiguity and insignificance, two qualities an opening song should not embody.
“Love’s The Only Way” breaks up the album’s seven-track sprint of fast-paced rock with a slow-swaying song about heartbreak. Violins soar alongside the electric guitar, and a cello sews the song together. “Love’s The Only Way” echoes in beauty, but it’s hard not to wonder if the pleasure of listening to the song derives from the relief it brings after the unforgiving stretch of rock ’n’ roll before it. Credit must be given to the soothing melody and stirring lyrics, in which Shultz sings, “Never made the sun rise, still can’t get my heart right/ Only ever made mistakes,” guiding the listener through a song about loneliness.
Alternative artist Beck makes an appearance on “Night Running,” an odd hybrid between attempted low-tempo rap and the band’s prescribed indie–rock genre. Though this combination is a common theme in Beck’s work, the song sits unsteadily on the haunches of this combination, and it doesn’t help that the song’s lyrics are mediocre, affixing basic rhymes to the dull rhythm that runs through every song in the album — guitar, drums, bass, the end. Beck will be on tour this summer with the band, but this song adds no promise to their collaboration. It’s disappointing to see such a talented band fall into amateur habits. This is an album poorly organized, not for a loss of talent but for a lack of proper execution. It may be pointlessly thrilling to experiment with the album on one’s own, divvying up the songs and listening to each song individually on different days of the week. In doing so, the listener may be able to appreciate each song by itself. But this isn’t a collection of singles. This is an album. And in order to be successful, “Social Cues” must be arranged as such.