Cage the Elephant have established themselves as one of the most exciting rock acts of the decade. With their Grammy-nominated 2013 magnum opus 'Melophobia', they found their own distinct musical identity, instantly recognizable through their fuzzy guitars, rollicking garage rock riffs and frontman Matt Schultz's distinct folksy drawl.
Two years later, they further explored their sound along the fringes of psychedelic rock as they tapped The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach to produce their fourth studio album, 2015's 'Tell Me I'm Pretty'.
The album cemented the group as one to definitely watch out for and as their fan base grew, so did the impatience for their next big release.
The three-year wait saw the first sign of a pay-off when the band teased the completion of the album on social media. "Done. Mixed. Mastered," Cage the Elephant tweeted last November, much to the delight of fans.
But two months later, when the first single arrived late January, it was a bittersweet moment for the band. The good news was that the new single 'Ready To Let Go' was the first taste of Cage the Elephant's new album 'Social Cues', due out on April 19 via RCA Records.
The bad news? 'Ready To Let Go' is also the culmination of the end of a seven-year marriage for Schultz.
Composed around a trip to the ancient city of Pompeii, Rome, where Schultz and his wife Juliette Buchs came to the realization that they can't go on any longer, the song is a melancholic, cathartic number which sees Schultz come to terms with the recent twist of fate.
Structured around an irresistible riff and a groovy bassline that is reminiscent of all things Cage the Elephant, Schultz juxtaposes images of his bitter holiday with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the unsuspecting people of Pompeii who were turned into statues of ash.
"As we slow dance, I became your statue, frozen/ ’Times I wonder, are we just a puff of smoke?" he asks rhetorically, before coming to terms with all that's happened and admitting that he's "ready to let go".
As Schultz revealed to Rolling Stone, the separation was especially difficult since the two still loved each other but realized that they simply couldn't go on.
“It’s hard when you love each other, but it just won’t work,” he admitted. “I’m glad to be past it.” Understandably, the split also caused a strain on the rest of the band, particularly Matt's brother and lead guitarist Brad Schultz, who spoke about how they had to work through testing times to get the album done.
While recording the album closer 'Goodbye', a John Lennon inspired ballad, Matt apparently delivered the entire take while prostrate on the floor, only to finish the take and announce that he was taking two weeks off work.
“There were times like that,” Brad explained to Rolling Stone. “We’d think he was getting back to normal, then he would melt down.” But it looks like Matt and the band have managed to successfully channelize the grief into their art, as is evident from the music video accompanying the lead single.
Directed by Matt Schultz himself, the surreal three-minute clip is full of unsettling images like lovers kissing while covered in blood, two girls hammering nails into their own hands, and a cult gathered in an underground tunnel in their underwear, preceded by Matt Schultz who bursts into song and dance in his tighty-whities!
The second single from the album arrived on March 15 only to confirm that emotional turmoil is not going to hold Cage the Elephant back. 'House of Glass' is a punk-flavored ripper, complete with thundering drums, gritty, fuzzy guitars and raw production that really brings out the rough-edged quality of the band's sound. “It’s an illusion, this admiration/ Of mutilation, my isolation,” Matt Schultz hammers the chorus in repeatedly till it drills into your head.
'House of Glass' is a sign that there will be plenty of sonic diversity throughout the 13 tracks on 'Social Cues' and that they might do away with the converging, coherent feel of 'Tell Me I'm Pretty'.
But the most surprising release came in the form of the third and latest single 'Night Running', which sees Cage the Elephant team up with an unlikely collaborator - multi-Grammy winner Beck.
The collaborative effort couldn't be farther removed from Cage the Elephant's body of work. As the band revealed to Rolling Stone, 'Night Running' was a track that had been in the works for years but was lying dormant due to creative differences between the Schultz brothers.
They got a fresh perspective from Beck, who they apparently met at an event and then sent the song over to. Beck returned in a day, adding a couple of rap verses that completely changed the flavor of the song from a proto-punk/reggae crossover to a genre-bending thumper with trap-like beats.
Schultz craftily handles the enjambed lyrics and the delivery teeters on rap sometimes but then eases into the familiar Cage the Elephant delivery.
It also turns out that Cage the Elephant's collaboration with Beck extends far beyond the studio, as the band recently announced a co-headlining North American tour with the indie legend. The expansive 30-date 'Night Running Tour' kicks off on July 11 and you can grab tickets here to see the live treatment of their new collaborative effort.
Meanwhile, if the three singles are anything to go by, it looks like we are in store for another blinder from the cowboy-hat wielding Kentucky indie rockers for the fifth time in a row. Check out the album art for 'Social Cues' and the full tracklist below.
'Social Cues' tracklisting:
01. Broken Boy
02. Social Cues
03. Black Madonna
04. Night Running (feat. Beck)
05. Skin and Bones
06. Ready to Let Go
07. House of Glass
08. Love’s the Only Way
09. The War is Over
10. Dance Dance
11. What I’m Becoming
12. Tokyo Smoke