A Cage the Elephant “Discography” review
Written exclusively for the Culture Fusion Review Blog
by Sean M. Hebner
3 ½ whosawhatsits of 5
So think of two genera’s that don’t really mix; for example, Post-Punk and Psychedelic rock. Then now that you’ve mixed them …put them is the SAME song. Am I referring to some obscure underground 70’s band or 80’s band? Nope. Now take the same band, and write a slide guitar driven pop rock song with folk/rap like delivery. Are you getting warmer? Believe it or not that song I just described you’ve heard if you listen to college radio. OHHH! I hear you say out loud! That SONG that was also in that hit videogame! What the HELL is the name of that band!?! Elephant…something? Sure is! Cage the Elephant is a rock band from Bowling Green, Kentucky and they cross pop genera’s as often as Queen would have; provided that Queen was primarily influenced by The Pixies and being locked in some cabins in the hills of Kentucky.
So if you go and look for what to even call this band as far as genera’s are concerned, you will find the internet hard pressed to find a consistent definition of their music. Let us state for the record that I consider them “indie-rock” and will leave it with that. The reason for this is that an indie-rock band can look like “The Lumineers” or “Muse” so the definition can even be stretched to “Slayer” if you squint a little. Especially when we touch on their second effort, it sounds quite different from their first and this is not a bad thing.
So let’s look at this first album. If Dr. Who were to be translated into music, First it would be the obvious “Caught somewhere in time” by Iron Maiden (my personal favorite maiden album for anyone who cares) second (to represent is SECOND HEART HAHAHAAHAH …ok) would be Cage the Elephant’s self-titled. They are in a constant state of temporal flux. Bouncing from one dead genera to another; sometimes in the same song.
*caught SOME WERE IN TIIIIMMMEEE! While there ain’t no rest for the wicked*
They seriously will sound like The Pixies one minute then T rex the next; it’s both awesome and thought provoking at the same time.
I must say that I heard “Ain’t no rest for the wicked” on Borderlands and fell in love with the song. I find it funny how much that song fits the game with as tongue-in-cheek seriousness of the song. The game is far from serious but the tone of the song gives a great vibe with which to play the game.
I started on their second album so I was taken a back with how “normal” compared to the second this one is. But it’s by no means normal. Like I’ve been saying this whole review, it’s all over the map. But unlike its successor (which I’ll review next) is much more diverse.
(Here chew on this track)
Seriously listen to that…from post-punk to psychedelic!! This is a good solid album and I’d give it a higher arbitrary designation but it’s too accessible. Wow, I just realized they are following a similar arch to Mr. Bungle. I just hope they don’t fizzle out at three albums (which they are recording as of this review). There is a lot to love about this album. It starts off like a slow fused stick of dynamite and explodes. Ironically the first track “in one ear” addresses my complaints about the album and how little they care about reviews and complaints about their album.
Cage the Elephant’s self titled is NSFW so if you like this, AND YOU SHOULD LIKE THIS, you can’t play just anywhere. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews. Lyrics don’t make or break an album for me. I am a “practicing” Atheist and the lyrics to Cage the Elephant’s songs tend to have a Christian/ religious undertones. Those lyrics will give points with some and remove points from others. DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE! Cage the Elephant is TOO FUCKING GOOD to let a little thing like GOD get in the way. Not to mention that the references to faith are fairly well hidden unless you actually pay attention you won’t notice.
I wouldn’t really praise the lyrics of Cage the Elephant as clever so much as blunt. Going back to “in one ear” every lyric is a blunt stab at Haters. That trend continues well into the second album. My wife pointed out that “ain’t no rest for the wicked” was all clichés and some of lyrics to other songs are straight up stereo types. Effective is the best word I can think of to describe the lyrics of Cage the Elephant. Other than the previously mentioned GOD thing, the band probably doesn’t WANT to hide its meanings very much. In a generation of Ironic music, this is a legitimate breath of fresh air.
So over all, as far as first efforts go I’ll say this one is a winner. Every complaint I have about it is minor and overlookable based on the quality of the music and musicianship. I’m left with an overall good feeling and an entertained sense of being. Overall I recommend that you go out and buy this album. Unless your taste in music doesn’t allow for a chance at Cage the Elephant. Then in self-title’s case you aren’t missing THAT much. More on that next review.
Songs you should look up: James brown, Ain’t no rest for the wicked, the whole album
The Magnetic Fields is the springboard for the sonic experimentation and songwriting skills of Stephin Merritt, a rather odd, baritone voiced fellow who espouses a rather morose yet humorous lyrical bent that he backs with catchy and straight laced melodies that are influenced almost equally by synth pop, folk, rock, experimental music, bubble gum pop, Tin Pan Alley and even country rock
Merritt made his name with a serious of synthesizer dominated albums that he tended to play all the instruments on but really made his name with the classic, triple album “69 Love Songs” which was exactly that: 69 songs, 23 per disc, that explored a wide range of musical emotional, lyrical and arrangement ideas that broke him through to a wider critical and (somewhat) wider commercial world. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of his busy career and the album that he’ll likely be remembered for 100 years from now.
However, Merritt didn’t retire from music: he even expanded into other bands with The 6ths, the Gothic Archies and even solo work taking up much of his time. However, the Magnetic Fields remained his most celebrated and renowned band and each new disc seemed to explore new ideas and concepts such as 2004’s “I” which was the first of several to ignore his normally highly synthesizer based style in favor of a more folk, acoustic guitar and piano oriented direction.
Merritt is a smart guy and doesn’t do things in half measures: the album is filled with guitars, banjos, pianos, harpsichords and a variety of other appropriate folk based instruments that explore a variety of moods and styles but which focuses on a single letter throughout…I…
The name of this album is no coincidence: Merritt thoroughly explores a more introverted, highly personal style which contrasts heavily with his more story telling based songwriting style of the past. Every single song starts with the letter “I” and eight of twelve songs would seemingly point directly at Merritt himself.
So many people want to point out the “introspective” albums as the obvious “masterpiece” by a songwriter or band: alternatively, people (like me) often find introspective albums to be a lame grab at getting critics to hail your album as a masterpiece.
I find this to be true of “Sea Changes” by Beck which, while a great album, felt a bit stiff and fake to me. A bit too much like a Bowie-esque change of style (which Beck had made a career pulling) and now, after his breakup, it was time to “get for real.”
I could be wrong about that album (and most people tell me I’m a complete idiot for that opinion and I’d rather not dwell on it) but I do feel that drive for creating a pain filled, heart wrenching masterpiece to be a bit at odds with reality.
I have a feeling that Merritt does too: he is obviously exploring more introverted music and lyrical approaches here but he’s not quite bleeding his heart the way I see other artists pull. He still sings his plaintive, simple (and some would say, awful) monotone baritone that doesn’t really pull any heart strings but gives each song a distance.
On the one hand, this avoids the problems with “heart ache for the sake of heart” that I feel from so many albums but on the other hand it makes it hard to really “feel” for Merritt on these songs. Merritt often skirts with emotionality (and the song “I Shatter” makes me cry every time) but it’s usually a more formal, songwriting emotionality rather than a true confession.
Which is why I enjoy this album more often than not: he isn’t puking his emotion all over an overly emotive audience but simply singing simple (but not too simple) songs with introspective (but not too introspective) lyrics giving you a slight glimpse into the mind of one of rock’s true curmudgeons.
For example, take a look at “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend.” Merritt, one of rock’s most “whatever” homosexual artists (he never hides it but never forces it in your face and did name is record label “Big Gay and Loud” or something to that effect) addresses a lover who loved and left him directly. He’s had similar songs but not one where he seemingly addressed a lover in such uncertain terms.
And in songs like “In An Operetta” he combines his love of non-rock music with a seemingly sincere desire to watch a beautiful operetta that soothes his aching heart with its plaintive melodies and simple minded lyrics. Of course, all this talk of “Violetta” makes one wonder if Merritt had somebody in mind or if he was stretching for a rhyme.
“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin” is an intensely darkly humorous song that finds Merritt wishing he had an evil twin that could do all the things to people, the dark things, that he wished he could do himself. You laugh along with him but part of you believes him which makes it rather disconcerting and one of the more effective songs on the album.
In the end, there isn’t a bad song on the album (Merritt is one of our most consistent writers) and while it lacks the “epic” feel of “69 Love Songs” it maintains a similar vibe (without synthesizers) while probing a bit more deeply and touching lightly on unhappy and heart wrenching emotions.
Does it feel a bit like a “Sea Changes” time-to-get-serious moments? In a certain way: the formal conceptual idea of “I” means Merritt probably forces a bit of the introspection that highlights the album. However its diversity of approach and high melodic and lyrical content helps it rise above the doldrums, similarly to “Sea Changes” but without the same sense of “trying so damn hard to break your heart” that I get from “Sea Changes” meaning it actually hits me a bit harder.
Maybe I’m a freak. I dunno. Both are good albums. Own both.
Songs to YouTube:
Any of the songs I just mentioned work fine although “I Was Born” is worth a spin due to its morbid lyrically concept. I won’t ruin it for you but it should give you a feeling of what it would be like to hang out with Merritt for a few hours.