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The Music Scoop

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

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Album Review:
Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues”


Cage the Elephant released “Social Cues” a little over a week ago. For rock fans and music lovers alike, the album’s launch has been an anticipated one since the band last released “Tell Me I’m Pretty” back in 2015. “Social Cues” flaunts a span of 13 tracks and it’s an overall well put together album. Lead vocalist Matt Shultz sounds sophisticated, candid, and at times chaotic as he tackles themes of averting fame and recognizing the value of love in places lost and found.

The Harvard Crimson describes “Social Cues” as an album where, “the band successfully combines their signature sound with an insightful and vulnerable examination of how exhaustion – with relationships, with careers, with oneself – inevitably manifests and piles up.” “Social Cues” does the reverse of romanticizing individual success, as it tells us Shultz’s story through an honest perspective.

TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR
TARYN OKAMOTO • THE SPECTATOR

The album begins with the track “Broken Boy” where Shultz directly asks himself in the chorus, “Broken boy, how does it feel?” Here, we first see Shultz questioning his surroundings and his state of mind. Furthermore, we get a look at the singer’s frustration with himself. The theme of facing exhaustion in fame and relationships slowly begins to establish itself in this first track.

The next track is “Social Cues” and it’s one my favorites. In this song, Shultz begins to further chip at the idea of wanting to escape from fame but feeling helpless in his efforts. He sings, “Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over / Don’t know if I can play this part much longer.” It sounds like Shultz is burned out with the reality of his life and he’s questioning the authenticity of his role in his career. This idea wanting to flee from fame is further portrayed in the songs “Blue Madonna” and “Skin and Bones.”

The fourth track off the album, “Night Running” featuring Beck is a cool addition to the album, as the song catalyzes a fuzzy and electric grunge aesthetic. A tidbit on love is seen in this song as the two sing in unison, “I’m on the final run / Falling in and out of love, oh.” Here, we start to see the Shultz confronting himself as he begins to except the rockiness of his relationship.

As the album progresses, Cage the Elephant’s message on fragility in relationships and the impermanence of them becomes clearer. We get a strong sample of this reality in the track “Ready to Let Go” as Shultz sings about the realization that his relationship with his wife of seven years is coming to an end. Following this bittersweet track comes “House Of Glass.” At this point, it feels like Shultz is taking listeners on a journey with him as they go through the motions of life. There’s a chaotic instrumental break towards the end of the song that displays dark and stormy guitar riffs.

“Social Cues” can be seen as a concept album because as you listen to the record, you’ll start to find yourself following a story – Shultz’s story – which is honest, intense, sad, but hopeful. Once you get to the track “Love’s The Only Way,” you’ll notice that it’s the first song in the album where we hear elegancy, softness, and vulnerability tucked in Shultz’s vocals; it’s a beautiful juxtaposition because it follows the chaotic track “House of Glass,” and the song couldn’t be placed in a better spot on the album.

In the midst of themes of frustration with oneself and the exhaustion of life and all its distractions and caveats, the track “Love’s The Only Way” is a beautiful ballad that offers us a glimmer of hope in the course of the album’s heavy themes. My favorite part of this song is the bridge:

“One day you’ll find life’s not a game / It’s not the wave that moves the sea / But the sea that moves the wave.”

As the album moves forwards, we revisit the idea of revelation in relationships. In the track “What I’m Becoming,” it seems like Shultz is starting to blame himself for his state in life as well as his state of mind. He sings:

“I’m so sorry, honey, for what I’m becoming / Everything you wanted seems so far from me / Never meant to hurt you, no, never meant to make you cry / I’m so sorry, honey, for what I’m becoming.”

It seems like Shultz is blatantly coming to terms with the fact that expectations are bound to fall through and he cannot please everybody.

The album ends with the track “Goodbye,” which is essentially Shultz’s farewell to his wife at the end of their relationship. According to Genius, Shultz produced this song in one take as he recorded lying down on the studio floor.

Cage the Elephant’s “Social Cues” presents a strong message to its audience, as it tackles themes of frustration in Shultz’s career and personal life. Sometimes, the truth is part of a larger unfortunate reality that cannot be solved. Yet, “Social Cues” still manages to bring positivity back into the pool of disappointment in a neat and hopeful way.

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