Cage the Elephant: Melophobia

[12 November 2013]

By Jordan Blum

Kentucky fried rock band Cage the Elephant quickly became a household name a few years ago with their single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” A mish-mash of blues, hip-hop, and alternative rock, the track was a cool slice of pulp fiction decorated with a catchy-as-hell chorus. Unfortunately, nothing on their third outing, Melophobia (which means “fear of music”), comes close to matching their previous glory. In fact, except for a few cool production techniques and some interesting mid-song changes, the record is just a collection of shallow, uninvolving tracks with plenty of distortion and eccentric singing.

In regards to titling the record Melophobia, the band didn’t mean it literally; instead, as frontman Matt Schultz told MTV earlier this month, “It’s a fear of creating music to project premeditated images of self, like catering to cool, or making music to project an image of being intellectual or artistic or poetic, rather than just trying to be an honest communicator.” This perspective is a bit ironic, however, when one considers that Schultz conveys a very specific and manufactured persona. In any case, Melophobia is more distinctive and unique than most of its equally popular peers, but that doesn’t make it especially intriguing or memorable. 

The album starts with “Spiderhead,” a fun punk/pop clash reminiscent of newer Portugal. The Man or the sole album by the Good, the Bad & the Queen (or really, anything Damon Albarn has done). The former connection is especially true with the eclectic shift that occurs near the end of the track. It’s inventive, for sure. Like the rest of the record, though, it’s a bit too crunchy for its own good, which prevents the colorful timbres from standing out. 

“Come a Little Closer” is easier on the ears, with a more inviting chorus and pleasant vibe, while “Telescope” allows Schultz to recite poetry in-between singing. It’s a very uplifting track. “It’s Just Forever” and “Black Widow”, on the other hand, charge onward with piercing obnoxiousness. In fact, Schultz seems to channel Danielson in his vocal shrillness. At least the latter feels like a respectful ode to ‘70s glam rock, so there’s some saving grace.

Later on, “Hypocrite” has the rebellious quality of earlier Red Hot Chili Pepper songs, and it makes unique use of horns. “Teeth”, by contrast, feels like the musical equivalent of a kid who just ate dozens of sugar packets: it’s spastic without purpose. The dreamily titled “Cigarette Daydreams” closes Melophobia with a ballad featuring restrained yet lovely acoustic guitar work and plenty of optimism. It’s probably the best track on here, as well as a superb way to close.

As you can tell, Melophobia is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it feels fresh and bold, with a clear vision, fun timbres, somewhat resourceful production, and a care-free attitude. At the same time, though, the songwriting is very amateurish, and there’s too much of a muddled, DIY coating around the entire affair. Few of these tracks here have any lasting appeal, and even those are just barely making the cut. Essentially, Cage the Elephant is definitely onto something with its sound, but other bands, such as the aforementioned ones, are doing much more with it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/176116-cage-the-elephant-melophobia/