What do you do if you’ve been on the road continuously for five years without a break? Well, if you are Cage The Elephant, you stop listening to music altogether. The band – fronted by Matthew Schultz – famously dropped their instruments after 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday in order to realise their ‘true’ style. “This record is us allowing our inherent style to come through” Schultz recently told Rolling Stone about forthcoming LP Melophobia (named after a fear of music, incidentally). The result is entirely satisfying: the record is settled for the most part, encompassing the band’s eclecticism whilst building on the band’s raucous high-octane live shows.
Despite the album title, Cage The Elephant seem to have channeled their love of music into their new LP. After five years of toilet venues and festival sets, there is always a danger of a band’s output becoming flimsy and unrefined. Instead, Cage The Elephant did the right thing: taking a break, focusing on their different musical influences and concocting a cornucopia of diverse sounds. Much like Thank You, Happy Birthday, Cage The Elephant’s third effort is a signal of what the band can achieve given the right ingredients.
Drawing from a variety of influences ranging from EDM to Bob Dylan (in particular, his protest songs), the band have roped in long-term friend and producer Jay Joyce once again to take the helm on Melophobia, culminating in a journey to a rewarding destination. Schultz continues to show growth as a songwriter, at times coming across like Kurt Cobain’s less fucked-up younger brother, with the frontman reportedly interviewing family members during the recording of Melophobia in an attempt to explore the intricacies of human nature. Yikes.
The striking thing which comes across to listeners as you indulge the record is the fact that, well, it doesn’t sound much like Cage The Elephant. Gone are the days of the band’s ADHD-inspired punk and in come dreamy melodies, psychedelic breakdowns and chilled vibes. It’s clear to any followers of the band that, after half a decade on the road working hard, the band have suitably mellowed. That is not to say, however, that the band struggle to embody a sense of urgency on Melophobia.
Opener ‘Spiderhead’ begins with jangly guitars and reverb-soaked basslines which makes Cage The Elephant sound inexplicably like Splashh, ditching the grungy rock which got them so far. A dazed Schultz vocal sees him telling us “you can take my eyes, but I’m not blind” with a stunning, rowdy climax. ‘Come A Closer’, the band’s lead single from Melophobia, is easily the most instantly gratifying track on the record with a slide guitar which oozes into a cool chorus after a hushed Schultz vocal. He sounds distressed and melancholic as he sings “I loved you like a brother” before urging us to “come a little closer”. The chorus is positively anthemic with its chants of “come on, come on, come on” but, thankfully, the effect is suitably grander than other musicians doing the same thing (cough, Liam Gallagher, cough) at this current moment in time.
‘Telescope’ mixes everyone from The Beatles to Tame Impala with nonsensical lyricism (sample: “Inside my telescope I see a pair of eyes blinding me, he walks and talks and acts like me”) and sun-kissed melodies. The track is quintessentially psychedelic but doesn’t really work as well as some of the band’s contemporaries (the aforementioned Tame Impala, Pond and Temples for instance) despite a gorgeous Bowie-like vocal from Schultz as he tells us “time is like a leaf in the wind”.
Thankfully, things duly pick up with the shape of the riotous abrasive ‘It’s Just Forever’. Duetting with Alison Mosshart of The Kills, the track has a buzzing bassline and scratchy guitars before Schultz tells the aforementioned Mosshart that “girl, I’m gunna make you mine”. The track is suitably seedy, sultry and sexy with the chorus of “it’s just forever” sounding like something from a dirty movie. Brilliantly crafted, the track is probably the finest thing the band have ever recorded and looks certain to become a live favourite (the only downside being that Mosshart will seldom be there to perform it alongside the band, of course).
‘Take It Or Leave It’ somehow infuses African drum beats with prog-rock guitars to give off the impression that the band have been listening to too much Gorillaz, before seamlessly merging into the garage rock of ‘Halo’ which gives The Black Keys a run for their money in terms of downright dirtiness. “Every time I find a way out you find a way to pull me back in” Schultz laments before a scratchy chorus which works bizarrely well in the context of the record. ‘Black Widow’ cranks the pressure up to the nines with a sense of the band’s rebellion, embodying a Holden Caulfield spirit and is sure to resonate with younger listeners as the refrain of “you got me losing control” rings out in academies during the band’s upcoming UK tour.
The jewel in the crown is ‘Teeth’, the penultimate track, which shows the band have a real knack for going unbelievably crazy in the studio. Encompassing a punk spirit, the track shows young pretenders like FIDLAR just how to go mental. Schultz’s vocal sounds like Dookie-era Billie Joe Armstrong after a two week bar crawl before climax ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ mixes piano keys with a lovelorn guitar strum. The track allows the band’s inner Beatles/Beach Boys fandom to rise to the surface, with “I can see it as clear as day” becoming the band’s final message.
The whole record takes a shift sonically away from the band’s raw, lo-fi beginnings but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Cage The Elephant fans who obsess over the band’s first two albums may be taken aback by the shift in sound and it may not resonate with them, but by embracing their inner Lennon, Cage The Elephant deliver a record which doesn’t imitate their heroes. Instead, it celebrates them.