Published Apr 22, 2019Cage the Elephant are the type of band to headline a free show to open this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. The Kentucky alt rock group bring enough radio-friendly hooks, contemporary rock energy and just enough punk edge to fire up a massive festival crowd, or a crowd counting the days for the playoffs to start. Their latest, Social Cues, is another showcase of the band's radio-ready brand of rock, executed with the confidence of a group ready to play Woodstock 50 this summer.
It wouldn't be that hard to dismiss the band's recent output as a means to embrace the mainstream v. the carefree rowdiness of their earlier records. The title track here resembles lovelytheband's "Broken" more than anything else in their catalogue, The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach oversaw production on their 2015 release, Tell Me I'm Pretty, and lead single "Ready to Let Go" sounds perfectly poised to slot in between X Ambassadors and Two Door Cinema Club on a Spotify indie playlist. Why compete with Arctic Monkeys or Vampire Weekend for alt rock ubiquity when you can gun for Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers instead?
Despite this, Social Cues is also an effective reminder of what got Cage the Elephant to festival headliner status in the first place: strong songwriting, memorable hooks and capable performances from each group member. Opener "Broken Boy" bristles with breakneck energy and an urgent vocal performance from Matt Shultz, while "Black Madonna" and "Social Cues" feature some of the record's catchier choruses. Closer "Goodbye" is the record at its most cathartic, a piano- and strings-driven track written for Shultz's wife as they were splitting up, with a devastatingly vulnerable vocal performance from him.
It's a strong way to end a record with its own share of highs and lows. Social Cues not an overly adventurous record, but it's the sound of a band who know their niche in contemporary alternative rock and how to deliver every time. (RCA)