I rolled down the highway at a smooth 70 miles per hour, motor purring under a soundtrack of Pitchfork’s top fifty albums of 2010, all of which I had copped illegally in just under twenty minutes thanks to a single torrent file. I do not in any way endorse musical piracy, but because I frequently dabble in the field of music journalism and am usually showered with promotional albums as fast as I can consume them, I convinced myself that this was simply research, keeping myself up to date with the greatest minds in the business of music. It didn’t take long for me to be thankful for my theft, because I hated every goddamn thing I heard. None of it was worth a single cent of my hard earned money anyway and if this was the best of the best when it comes to the modern rock landscape, I wanted no part of it.
Because this is a review of the sophomore release by Kentucky rock & rollers Cage the Elephant, whose album was not on Pitchfork’s horrendous queue because of its January 2011 release date, I’ll spare you the details and get to the point of why this story matters. Nearly every album on the list that was supposed to pass as rock would fail to excite anyone with an IQ over 15. Nearly every album on the list was mundane at best, dripping with loopy effects pedals and vocals so heavily layered with reverb the actual lyrics were rendered mostly indecipherable. With one exception, a fantastic album by Nick Cave’s Grinderman project, the whole mélange was nothing but an abysmal parade of psychedelic slop and bland bullshit. When I could at last take no more, I unplugged my iPod and considered tossing it out the window to watch it clatter to bits down I-71. Instead I slipped in Cage’s Thank You Happy Birthday into my CD player and hoped that the sound that came out would be better than the album title and knowing full well that it couldn’t possibly be worse than the cacophony I had just subjected myself to for the last three and a half hours.
To my pleasant surprise, it actually kicked off pretty well. “Always Something” is a dark little number, with the band to baring just enough teeth to snare the listener’s attention without scaring off those looking for the catchiness of the first album’s monster singles. The second track, “Aberdeen”, filled that hit single niche quite nicely, a cheery tune that brought about a distinct change in the feel of the record, but maintains Cage’s reckless attitude.
“Indy Kidz” is next up to the plate, and I was amazed to find that this track slung menace twice as thick as the opening track, with singer Matt Shultz directly criticizing the foolish mall-rat crowd that his band calls a fan base. Ten minutes into this album, I actually found myself impressed. It felt wild, untamed, kinetic. I thought to myself, by God they did it; this band actually brought some danger back to popular music! They looked the old sophomore curse right in her twisted eye and punched the old bitch straight into oblivion. Radio will never be the same. Rock and roll triumphs again!
Then, just under three minutes into the track, the bastards turned that fist around and laid a stiff one straight to my groin. “Indy Kidz” suddenly twisted into a horrific acid meltdown and all of the venomous promise that had me on the edge of my seat just moments before suddenly drained away before my eyes. In crept the distorted vocals and psychedelic rubbish that had infuriated me for nearly the entirety of my drive up to that point. Why would the band do such a thing? Why not just end the song at three minutes like and move on, save the unnecessary blathering for an extended live version?
The answer came in two words: album filler. The second half of “Kidz” is absolute swill, but what’s more embarrassing is the group’s ridiculous choice to place the song third on the album. Forcing one’s audience to endure such a deplorable mess this early into a record nearly ensures that any listener with a sense of taste will never make it to the end, and maybe that was Cage’s plan. Thank You gets continuously worse as it goes on, mostly an amalgamation of filler and tired rehashed versions of songs that were already perfected by their predecessors, and I think that Shultz and company were fully aware of such. It seemed to me to be nothing more than an act of self-sabotage, and I was personally offended by such a craven display.
Cage the Elephant are perfectly capable of writing great, catchy rock songs, as evidenced by the numerous singles their debut release produced. However, with the follow up they not only drop the ball, it seems that they may have just cut their hands off altogether.
It’s not entirely unlistenable, don’t get me wrong. They generate sparks occasionally, grunting like primates in “Around My Head,” and unleashing their wildest inner beasts in “Sabertooth Tiger,” but even in their best moments the band simply ape their act from groups that did it better decades ago. Hints of The Stooges, Nirvana, Beck, The Pixies, and dozens of others pop up, but without any of the genuine charm that made those bands worth listening to in the first place. Thank You lacks any real sense of real cohesiveness, cramming the weak sentiment of “Rubber Ball” alongside the frenetic messiness of “Japanese Buffalo” in some desperate attempt to fill up album space, but it continuously falls flat song after song. The unnecessary barking of the New York Dolls-y “2024” lacks any authentic viciousness, instead coming off as across as forced and intrusive, although it does help to distract from Shultz’s incredibly amateurish lyrics. He takes his cues from a long line of singers who have managed to spin nonsensical ramblings into rock gold, but just because it somehow worked for Anthony Keidis, Gavin Rossdale, and Jim Morrison, does not mean this act of drug-induced idiocy should be tried at home.
I’ll save you the trouble of reading a track by track breakdown, and I would recommend that you save yourself the hassle of listening to this entirely disappointing album. There are just enough hooks that Cage might be able fool the masses and squeeze a few final meal tickets out of these musical leftovers, but I doubt even Pitchfork would be foolish enough to slap this bad boy on their Top 50 list come December. Cage the Elephant may aspire to be one of the few bands holding on to the fraying ends of rock & roll, fighting for justice in a modern musical landscape dominated by spineless pop singers more concerned with their bangs than their musical output and hip-hop so annoying and monotonous I’d rather stick my head inside the hood of a well-alarmed luxury vehicle mid-heist than listen to them. However, if this is the best they’ve got, they may want to consider taking whatever cash this album manages to pick from the public’s pockets and investing it wisely. Their fifteen minutes may be almost up.
Ultimately these pachyderms lack the balls or uniqueness to trample their way into the annals of rock history, but that is by no means an easy task. Like so many hopeful bands before them, they’ve once again rehashed fifty years of rock history, simply picking off bits of flesh from their musical forefathers and stitching them into a mindless creature that feigns ferocity but is ultimately too dumb to fight its way out of a paper bag. The Elephant shall remain Caged, and I’ll keep looking for something new and worth the time. What happened to rock & roll?
By Alex Mosie