Sound — 6
American rock group Cage The Elephant are perhaps most well known for being eclectic; even when it comes down to their 2008 eponymous debut, the members of this relatively young collective ventured across alternative rock, punk blues, garage rock and indie rock territory while still managing to assemble an album cohesive enough to garnish multiple successful singles and reach Gold sales status. Not ones to stray close to a particular sound or approach, Cage The Elephant would continue to explore psychedelic rock and noise rock frontiers with their subsequent efforts, 2011's "Thank You, Happy Birthday" and 2013's "Melophobia." The band continued to remain relevant through a regular touring and recording schedule, while still making an impact on the charts with singles "Come a Little Closer" and "Shake Me Down," however that was all before it was announced that Cage The Elephant lead guitarist Lincoln Parish had left the lineup and the band traded out longtime producer Jay Joyce in favor of working alongside Dan Auerbach, guitarist and vocalist from The Black Keys.
Such a collaboration resulted in Cage The Elephant's fourth studio album "Tell Me I'm Pretty," which not surprisingly offers a few tracks that sound rather influenced by Auerbach. Case in point, the album's lead single "Mess Around" offers a blend of vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar and keyboards that bears enough resemblance to The Black Keys to declare musical cross contamination; the fact that Auerbach himself offers backup vocals, guitar and keyboards on the record is enough to support the disapproval of dedicated rock purists. Even so, such a departure proves to be only temporary, in typical Cage The Elephant fashion. The opening track "Cry Baby" maintains slight resemblance yet enforces a more brooding chord progression and slightly melancholic vocal melody. "Sweetie Little Jean" is a clear highlight here, alternating between delicate acoustic guitar to a bright, climatic refrain propelled by acoustic guitar and soaring lead vocals from mainman Matt Shultz. "Cold Cold Cold" embodies a slight Rolling Stones influence, particularly attributed by the band's incorporation of hand clapping and brooding vocals over a minimalist guitar arrangement.
These nostalgic elements continue to press through on "Trouble," another one of the album's most memorable selections, largely due to a massive sliding guitar section and some fine lyrical work. Presenting a familiar brand of mid-tempo hard rock, "How Are You True" and "Punchin' Bag" offer more similarities than differences, especially in the vocal department, yet still serve as decent filler. "Portuguese Knife Fight" breaks the repetition with a massive Smashing Pumpkins-esque garage rocker, rounded out by snarling vocals from Shultz and concrete guitar layered beneath eerie synthesizer work and rock solid percussion. While not the full-fledged studio effort some were anticipating, Cage The Elephant have still offered a collection of songs with "Tell Me I'm Pretty" that sounds very warm from start to finish, even if some songs easily exceed others from a compositional standpoint.
Lyrics — 7
Cage The Elephant lead vocalist Matt Shultz delivers a rather memorable performance throughout the band's fourth album. His range is extensive, which accommodates Cage The Elephant's tendency to alternate from style to style on a regular basis. The aforementioned "Portuguese Knife Fight" and "Mess Around" serve as strong examples of the differences featured in Shultz's approach to the main microphone throughout "Tell Me I'm Pretty," however whether the band is dishing out hot servings of adrenalized hard rock or melodic alternative, the vocals always tend to shift appropriately.
Overall Impression — 7
Cage The Elephant continue to shift their musical approach around rather regularly with their fourth studio album, "Tell Me I'm Pretty." While the addition of Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys definitely altered the end result found on this installment, the same could also be said when appointing any producer to the helm of a studio project and Auerbach's contributions to the final product are consistently on par with the expectations of familiar listeners. Even if it's not the band's shining achievement, "Tell Me I'm Pretty" surely stands as a memorable listen.