Kentucky’s Cage the Elephant are one of the more remarkable young rock groups to emerge over the past decade, constantly reinventing their sound and image with a Bowie-sque flair. On their fourth studio album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cage are down a guitarist, Lincoln Parish, and have eschewed longtime producer Jay Joyce in favor of Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame. Under Auerbach’s wing, Cage have created their most rock and roll oriented record since their self-titled 2009 debut while still pushing themselves into new sonic territory.
“Cry Baby” kicks off the record with a mid-tempo rocker. “Mess Around” is the most overtly Auerbach-influenced song on the record, being a straightforward garage rocker about a woman out for blood. Auerbach’s raw production style is quite evident on these two songs which set the tone for the rest of the record.
The next few songs vary in style: “Sweetie Little Jean” possesses a beach pop flair, “Too Late To Say Goodbye” could be the theme for the next James Bond flick, “Cold Cold Cold” is a sixties love letter that could’ve come straight out of a Vietnam war flick, and the psychedelic “Trouble” features a lyrical callback to the band’s first hit, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”.
“How Are You True” is the centerpiece of Tell Me I’m Pretty with its Floydian music and Beatle-esque melody and Cage’s best recorded song so far, a psychedelic ballad about depression, the passing of time, and regret. “Trying to find a way to carry on… one day you’ll find that life has passed you by.”
The rest of the record is a three time punch of retro-rock grooves, with Auerbach’s psychedelic imprint audible on “That’s Right” and “Punching Bag”. Rather than going out on a whisper like Thank You Happy Birthday and Melophobia, Tell Me I’m Pretty closes with the raucous “Portugese Knife Fight” with frontman Matt Shultz channeling the no-fucks-given attitude of late legends Jim Morrison and Scott Weiland: “I wanna waste my life with you.”
Songs like “Cry Baby”, “Cold Cold Cold”, and “How Are You True” hold up to the best of Melophobia and Thank You, Happy Birthday, but is Tell Me I’m Pretty Cage’s best album? I don’t know, and I don’t care, and I doubt the band really cares what anyone thinks, despite the tongue-in-cheek title: all that matters is Cage have yet again put out a solid release and defied listener expectations to make another debut record, continuing to be one of rock’s best young bands.
To others with synesthesia: I think this album is incredibly purple.