Cage the Elephant occupies a singular space in the Alternative Rock music genre – they are a unique brand of edgy yet moving music. Their songs have the ability to play through your mind long after you have heard them, lead singer Matt Shultz’s distinctly gritty voice ringing through your ears above a kickass, rocking instrumental.
Their songs are well-rounded, but with unexpected twists and turns – anything but one-note tracks. They have evolved from an angsty group of guys harshly shouting out bold proclamations to a polished, innovative band who holds true to their rock roots while collaborating with a fresh new sound that will soon be one for the ages.
Cage the Elephant (2009)
This was the first song I ever heard by Cage the Elephant, and I was instantly struck by the dynamic guitar track and clever lyrics. The song follows Shultz as he walks along the street on a normal day, eventually telling a fascinating story about the interactions he has with strangers, including a prostitute and a mugger.
Shultz sings these lyrics in a wise, knowing way, contrasted with his tone of voice that almost sounds like an everyday speaking voice rather than an impressive vocal. This gives the song all the more honesty and punch. The chorus describes the struggles of living in a world where you have to fend for your self, ending the song with its title lyric “there ain’t no rest for the wicked/until we close our eyes for good”.
Smack in the middle of their debut album, “Back Against the Wall” is a perfect representation of everything the then-new band has to offer. With a harder rock influence than “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked”, this song delves deeper into the edgy corner of Cage the Elephant’s repertoire with jarring lyrics and screechy notes that showcase Shultz’s pipes.
There is a killer instrumental break beginning at the three minute mark that will transport you into a sweaty crowd of shoulder-to-shoulder people, hair smacking your neck as exhilaration moves your body to the music.
Thank You Happy Birthday (2011)
This is my all-time favorite Cage the Elephant song, and for good reason. It combines every characteristic that makes Cage the Elephant the spectacular band that they are – stimulating lyrics, head-banging good instrumentals and contemplative moments. The song begins softly with nothing but a stripped down guitar solo and Shultz’s piercing voice, subtly fading off into yearning “oooo”s. But the mood remains tender for only a few moments before a thundering drum beat enters the track.
The rest of the song plays off of this stop-and-go energy, shifting from delicate sentiment to forceful vigor. At 2:07, Shultz erupts into a full-on frenzy, shouting at the top of his lungs but remaining in control of the story the lyrics tell. This explosion of sound is broken abruptly with a musing moment, repeating the lyrics “even on a cloudy day”. Ending the way it began, “Shake Me Down” leaves us with a few crooning “oooo”s, placing us in a state of pensive awe.
As the lead single on their third album, “Come a Little Closer” topped the Billboard Alternative Chart in 2013, marking the band’s fourth number-one hit. The song begins with a groovy beat that makes me want to tip my head back, eyes closed, swaying along to the music. Shultz’s voice takes on a more mysterious persona in this track, seducing us powerless listeners, drawing us in with his sultry tone.
Once we are cast under his spell, Shultz hits us with a gutsy chorus, pulsing with palpable energy and trippy guitar riffs. Adding to the unpredictability of the song, the music cuts to an eerie trance at the 2:40 mark, setting us in an abstract state, then morphing into a chant of the title lyric “come a little closer then you’ll see” with intense instrumentals blasting in the background.
My foot taps uncontrollably the moment I press play on this rhythmic tune. It’s vibe reflects the striking album cover of Melophobia: mesmerizing and bewildering in the best way. Trippy beats trill through the entire song, but are most prevalent in the verses where Shultz tries to make sense of the mind of the person he wishes to be with.
He wrestles with leaving them while being afraid of losing what he loves. Around the three minute mark, Shultz begs in an imploring whisper, “baby please/oh baby please” before growing stronger in his demand, shrieking “stay with me/or cut me free/it’s killing me”. He concludes the song confidently deciding “take it or leave it”, ending with the title lyric again, in classic Cage the Elephant fashion.
Playing through my speakers as I drive down an endless, no-turns road, rain pelting my windshield, staring out of the foggy windows placidly, “Cigarette Daydreams” hits every heartstring with each note played. It sings a much more emotional, nostalgic tune than most Cage the Elephant songs, reminiscing on days as seventeen-year-olds, desperately stumbling to figure out this messy life.
Beautiful piano accompaniment chirps throughout the verses along with a stripped down acoustic guitar, creating a raw mood that strikes a chord deep inside any listener. The best way I can describe this song is that it is beautifully melancholy and hopeful simultaneously.
Tell Me I’m Pretty (2015)
Beginning with a dark and dramatic growl, “Too Late to Say Goodbye” captures the listener instantly, drawing them into this deliciously mysterious dance. Sultry energy floats throughout the entire song while Shultz confesses that he is completely in love with someone who he knows to be dangerous.
This tug-of-war with one’s self, fighting the urge to be with somebody obviously wrong for you, yet allowing your head to spin in mesmerization and attraction towards them is easy to imagine. We feel his pain as he takes up arms against this battle, yet we secretly hope that he gives in, because where there are sparks, there is fire.
This track begins sweetly, twinkling with notes that sound almost like a nursery rhyme. Soon after, we are hit with many “oooo”s, adding to the relaxing, lighthearted vibe. This continues throughout the song, only interrupted by quick, harsh beats on the drum in-between lyrics.
Despite the song’s soft tone, the lyrics themselves are a bit heavier than a nursery rhyme. Shultz declares his life a chaotic mess – anything but pleasant and easy. He pleads with an invisible love to pull him through the depths of trouble that surround him, ending with an even heftier final plea, “God don’t let me lose my mind”.
This song is simple and superb. It begins with a rolling instrumental that reminds me of music from an older time, somewhat Beatles-esque. A shaking maraca sounds throughout the entirety of the song, adding to the carefree vibe. The chorus has a steady pulse to it that drives the audience forward, making us eager to hear more with a grin growing across our face as time goes on. Only Shultz’s voice adds a level of urgency, his raspy yells and charismatic tone echoing throughout the song, stealing the show once again.
Cage the Elephant’s music possesses the indescribable ability to move people. It has a unique quality that I cannot quite put my finger on, but it fills my chest every time I hear one of their songs. I surrender to its power, knowing that the instant I turn on Cage the Elephant, I am lost in a completely different world, even if it’s just for three minutes.
The Alt-Rock Chick highlights Alternative Rock music by selecting a band/artist and listing their best songs from any number of their albums, and features playlists that reflect certain themes.