On “Social Cues,” the group combines — and revitalizes — two well-worn scenarios: the pains-of-fame album and the romantic-breakup album (the band’s frontman, Matt Shultz, was recently divorced). Both situations call for thorough self-questioning and the mournful recognition that joy is fleeting, along with flashes of anger, estrangement, guilt and melancholy. No wonder most of the new songs revolve around minor chords.
Onstage, Cage the Elephant has proudly maintained rock’s men-will-be-boys tradition; Shultz is a live wire exulting in the moment. And ever since its 2008 debut album, the group has noisily defied the cultural decline of rock in the 21st century. The band writes and performs as if there is still a canonical direct line from 1950s rock ’n’ roll through the British Invasion and the psychedelic 1960s, the glam and punk 1970s, the new wave and arena rock 1980s and the grungy 1990s, all the way to the present — as if hip-hop hadn’t all but completely sidelined the guitar band.
Cage the Elephant’s songs unmistakably connect to rock’s past. Its music is studded with sonic and structural allusions, though it doesn’t linger on any particular style or era. And the songs are never simply period pieces or party tunes. The band doesn’t merely understand, and revel in, what a historical anomaly it is. It also has feelings, and shows them.
Read the full review over at The New York Times.