Matt Schultz doth protest too much, methinks. Seemingly unprovoked, at least by first-time listeners of In One Ear, the opening track of Cage The Elephant’s self-titled debut, the rambunctious lead singer of the Kentucky quintet launches a tirade in which he describes his feelings of anger and apathy towards those that misunderstand him and his music.
One would think you would need to establish a body of work a bit more substantial than the first few bars of your first major release before griping about dissenting critics. At least Axl Rose and company had two albums and the first half of Use Your Illusion under their belts before Get in the Ring was penned.
Regardless, what’s more disconcerting is the contrived material that follows, which is a good indication as to why Schultz is on the defensive.
A Kid Rock-inspired rap-rock theme serves as the backdrop for Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, a commentary on the compromising of morals for money, while on Lotus, textbook Red Hot Chili Peppers funk sets the stage for Schultz’s call for an end to wars.
The opening groove of Back Stabbin’ Betty, reminiscent of The Beta Band‘s I Know, gives way to some dirty R&B and a story about a man finally leaving his rotten woman. The song notes that the chap is named John Thomas, which brings to mind fellow Kentuckian John Thomas Scopes, the central figure in the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 (allusion to which would be an interesting idea, given the Schultz brothers’ Christian upbringing). But it’s doubtful that the band would entertain such an extended metaphor, and it’s probably appropriate to take the song at face value.
The motif of expressing disappointment in human behavior extends to the name of the band itself. With the elephant signifying integrity, the moniker represents the concept that people confine righteousness and allow indecency to run rampant. However, given the material resulting from such an observation, it may be in the group’s best interest to stay focused on less lofty ideals – perhaps the name Cage the (insert name of animal representing musical innovation here) would be appropriate for a follow-up.
Overall, the band does little with the many ideas it has borrowed from those that came before them (check out The Raconteurs‘ Consolers Of The Lonely for a recent, considerably more solid use of older material in the generation of new ideas). Persistent comparisons, which are more suitable when considering locality as opposed to ingenuity, to ramshackle rockers Kings of Leon are rather inappropriate.
In fairness to Cage The Elephant, though, their particular blend of Kentucky-fried rock energy has the potential to turn some heads, especially in concert (you wouldn’t need too much alcohol to enjoy partaking in the flailing throng supporting the band in the video for In One Ear, despite what Schultz notes in the track). This, however, is not a live review, and in the context of a studio recording, Cage The Elephant’s premiere isn’t far off insufferable.