Following the release of their self-titled debut album and its standout single Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked in 2008, it seemed only a matter of time before Cage The Elephant made their mainstream breakthrough. However, while their signature single did chart well – reaching Number 32 in the UK – the Kentucky five-piece have never quite achieved the widespread acclaim that their gritty, uninhibited rock ‘n’ roll deserved.
The band’s second album, Thank You Happy Birthday, was met with a similar reaction, with critics largely applauding the eclectic and experimental return. The record showed that Cage The Elephant were willing to try new things and explore the boundaries of their sound. But despite being a bold progression, and the band touring relentlessly following its release, the quintet fared no better when it came to expanding their audience.
This appears to have been taken into account during the process of recording their third album, Melophobia, which is by far Cage The Elephant’s most accessible and consistent album yet. It is clear from the very off that the band have been more thorough in their approach to the new record, with the attention to detail demonstrated in the first single Come A Little Closer.
The song is almost certainly the most melodic they have ever sounded, with a wandering guitar riff slowly building towards a big, anthemic chorus, as lead vocalist Matt Shultz yells: “Come a little closer than you seem/ come on, come on, come on/ things aren’t always what they seem to be.” There’s nothing particularly showy about the lyrics or the song in general, but it is irresistibly catchy and should quickly become a live favourite.
Opener Spiderhead is another early highlight, one that retains the attitude of Cage The Elephant’s earlier material, while also showing a new found maturity. It is built around an incredibly infectious guitar hook and a pounding beat, as Shultz proves just how versatile his vocals can be during the track’s four-minute running time, belting out the catchy chorus with his throaty growl: “Spiders in my head, spiders in my mind/ you may take my eyes/ but baby I’m not blind.”
It’s Just Forever continues the strong opening, while also producing further evidence of Cage The Elephant’s more refined sound. The song sees the band team up with the brilliant Alison Mosshart (The Kills and The Dead Weather) for a spiky punk track that boxes up some of the innate chaos that was evident in their debut. Then there’s the sultry Black Widow, where the influence of the Pixies shines through.
Fans concerned that the band have lost their edge need not worry, with tracks such as Take It Or Leave It and Teeth sounding just as furiously energetic as the heavier material on their second album. The difference is that Cage The Elephant are now far more composed and assured in their execution, with the album feeling like an album, rather than the fragmented end result of Thank You Happy Birthday.
This is confirmed by some of the more tender moments on Melophobia, namely the atmospheric Telescope and the beautifully melodic closer Cigarette Daydreams. The former is a patient, slow-burner that features lyrics drenched in nostalgia (“Time is like a leaf in the wind/ either it’s time worth spent/ or time I’ve wasted), while the latter is a simple acoustic number – showing why sometimes less is more.
Melophobia marks an important moment in their career. The break from touring has clearly done the band good and given them a chance to crystalise in their minds exactly what it is they want to achieve. As a result, the raw unpredictability of their earlier material is a thing of the past. While that development may take some by surprise, Melophobia finally sees Cage The Elephant realise their full potential.