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Artist: Cage The Elephant

Album: Tell Me I’m Pretty

Label: RCA Records

Release Date: December 18, 2015

 

 

 

2008 was a good year for the open-tuned, “white-boy” Blues that was pushing its way back to the radio. The White Stripes had just completed their entire six-album discography. The Black Keys had moved on from the traditional formulas of Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory, and began to transition into whatever came next. It seemed like Cage the Elephant’s brash, us-against-the-world style came at a good time. Notorious for their energetic and delightfully endearing stage presence, it wasn’t long before they were able to carry that momentum into their commercially successful first album.

Fast forward seven years to Cage The Elephant’s newest release, Tell Me I’m Pretty.

It takes more than one listen to realize how the title of the album ties into the ten tracks that has producer, Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), written all over it. We’ve all seen artists get their inspiration and drive from sheer, sometimes extreme emotion. More often than not, some degree of reinvention is necessary at a given point. Some handle transitions smoothly. Some don’t. Some break up. Some are lucky enough to keep their craft but run the risk of becoming novelty or nostalgia acts. Matt Schultz realizes there’s more depth to him than the stage-dominant young Kentuckian that the masses have come to accept, and this record is his attempt to find out if he’s “Pretty” beyond his public image.

Tell Me I’m Pretty opens with “Cry Baby”, a restrained but pounding song that serves mostly as an emotionally-conflicted call to seize each moment. Listeners immediately get a look inside what later makes up a majority of the band’s new sound – driving drums, a buzzy guitar, dynamic bass line, and surprisingly bridle vocals.

After several upbeat but hesitant tracks, the album takes a slow turn. “Too Late To Say Goodbye”, employs an odd, too-busy-for-its-own-good drum beat as the song laments a broken relationship through a number of worn out clichés (No turning back, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, it’s too late to say goodbye). During “Trouble”, CTE ditches the buzzy guitar and employs a fuller sound, with a few clean guitar arpeggios adding to the misery of the verses, where Schultz expresses his need to be loved. “How Are You True” is an appropriate follow up track, exploring the intricacies and difficulties of love with a somewhat childlike amazement (I take a look at myself and I stop and stare / And I wonder who is this standing here). The remainder of the album brings new energy to Cage The Elephant’s trusted sound, but turns out to be formulaic to a flaw.

Tell Me I’m Pretty is an earnest and introspective album that offers some new dimensions to the band. Unfortunately, with the exception of “Trouble”, “How Are You True”, and a few other brief moments in the first half of the album, Pretty fails to be clever, lacks energy, and employs wordplay that results in more groaning than enjoyment. You could say it’s a little refreshing that Cage the Elephant has ventured from their familiar cage, but it seems that they have lost a few of their teeth somewhere along the way.

 

LIKEYOUSAID Critic Score: 6.0 out of 10

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Article by John Reimer.

 

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