Garage rock is alive and well in 2011 and, once again, it’s America that leads the charge – bands like Yuck and Cloud Nothings being just a few examples of the truckload of talent that is currently working people into a frenzy.
Cage The Elephant’s second album, Thank You Happy Birthday, follows on from their 2008 self-titled debut and it is clear from the outset that this a record brimming with enthusiasm, heaviness and energy. What makes this a step above the rest though is the quality of the songwriting and the pop sensibilities shown.
The two most obvious examples of this come in the two strongest songs. Shake Me Down, amidst all of its clattering and its crunching guitars, has a delightful and instantly catchy melody. Right Before Your Eyes is similar, albeit with the abrasive nature of the guitars toned down a notch to allow its rather simplistic chorus (“Right before my eyes, I saw the whole world lose control/The whole world lose control, before my eyes”) to work its wonders. The acoustic version, a hidden track at the end, underscores this.
Thank You Happy Birthday is, in general, a consistent and concise record that never gets boring. The melodies are a major reason, but it’s also partly down to the range of dynamics on show. The tender side of the band is showcased through Rubber Ball and Japanese Buffalo. The hard-rocking side is showcased through 2024 and Sell Yourself. Sometimes they can do both – Japanese Buffalo starts off all tranquil before the usual wall of noise kicks in.
Matthew Schultz’s vocals have depth. He can definitely screech and spit and shout when he has to, but when he has to be tender he can pull it off charmingly. Perhaps the only time the album will get annoying, for some, is during Indy Kidz. In this all-too-obvious parody of the hipster movement Schultz comes across as rather sneering and arrogant (not too far away from the sound of Liam Gallagher turning his put downs in interviews into lyrical form).
In the midst of it all, myriad influences can be heard, among them Pixies, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. The good news is that Cage The Elephant don’t feel at all like copyists. If anything this second album is an excellent nostalgia-filled trip. The big hooks suggest that they’re unafraid of pop sensibilities and the potential is in them to cross over into the mainstream (though if you look at the history of grunge bands, it will most likely be by accident). They don’t offer much that’s new, but this album is far too enjoyable to squabble over that.