When Cage the Elephant emerged from Kentucky in 2008, they were never going to break boundaries. Their eponymous same-year debut took elements of blues and classic rock and infused them with the rich southern flavours of their native state. In comparison, their second album harboured a woozy, college rock vibe reminiscent of The Pixies, but in short, neither had given fans a real taste of the band's true personality, just a hint of it beneath a layer of aesthetic appropriation.
Third album 'Melophobia', however, was a concerted effort from the band to not just exhibit their own sound, but to find it as well. It was their first real critical success, and showed Cage the Elephant not as genre chameleons they were becoming known as, but as more than competent musicians in their own right.
It's disappointing then, that fourth effort 'Tell Me I'm Pretty' follows in a similar, albeit weaker vein to that third album. The dripping-in-fuzz, garage rock duality of opening pair ('Cry Baby' and 'Mess Around' respectively) suggest the touch of producer/Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach might be all too ubiquitous, a fear that thankfully proves unfounded, whilst fourth track 'Too Late To Say Goodbye' follows a similar sing-song rhythm to Hozier's 'Take Me To Church', something which can't be unheard.
It's not just the reappearance of easy comparisons that's disappointing however. In their bid to capture the essence of their bluesy, garage rock, Cage the Elephant have effectively managed to lose the quirky personality they once had, and whilst 'Tell Me I'm Pretty' is far from a homogeneous record, the tracks do have a tendency to bleed into one another, particularly on repeat listens.
Fortunately, there are a handful of obvious highlights too. The '60s pop of 'Cold Cold Cold' is nothing short of excellent, and following cut 'Trouble' harks back to the stoned melodies of 'Melophobia', or even further back to singles like 'Aberdeen'. No matter the quality though, they still feel like token gestures in an otherwise average album.
Of course, this could well be the sound of Cage the Elephant growing up and building on the foundations they laid with 'Melophobia' - all but leaving behind their first two records. With that in mind, 'Tell Me I'm Pretty' could, in theory, be viewed as the band's “difficult second album” and for that, we can forgive them for their transgressions. Sort of.
Words: Dave Beech
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