Cage the Elephant’s latest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, is an anthem to the cynical view on life we tend to pride ourselves on in an age where self-importance is measured by the number of problems on our plate. With songs that carry the influential sounds of the British Invasion for a whimsical, psychedelic tone, the American rock band’s fourth album is one to accompany a California coast trip, or at least the daydream of one.
Right from the start of the album, the sixties-esque intro to “Cry Baby” echoes the age of the Los Angeles classic rock culture: turn on, tune in, drop out. Cage has a whirlwind-like feel, and the vocals of lead singer Matt Shultz seem distant, as if originating from a fuzzy megaphone. There is no lack of crispness, however, and the fuzziness does not take from quality, but lends to the tone.
The lyrics vacillate between nonchalant fun – “we’ll stay up waiting for the sun to shine” – and angsty frustration – “push back from my heart, wish we go back to the start.” These contrasting tones refer back to the sixties and seventies, drawing on a musical era that included revo- lutionary, politically charged lyrics and the glammed-out dance tracks of Bowie and Queen. Between melody, lyrics, and influence, Cage creates an album with enough mystery to allow for multiple interpretations.
Tell Me I’m Pretty also has the advantage of being produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who has helped release a variety of albums, such as Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey, and the same hints of far off, strung out guitar chords of Del Rey’s album are prevalent here. Auerbach gives songs an entire universe for the sound waves to disperse into – this comes through best in “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” painted with deep, echoing strokes of guitar chords that vibrate to their full potential. Even the lyrics are coated with intense yearning.
The album steers clear of cliche, melancholic songs. Instead, it takes a rock and roll, head-held-high approach to negativity. The most relatable track, “How Are You True,” is laced with waves of artificial guitar harmonics and acoustics. Its title seems ironic, since we rarely tend to answer “how are you?” with the truth – a sad reality mimicked by the song. The acoustics are sere- nade-like, as if Shultz is sitting on a stool singing directly to you, and the technological falsetto in the vocals sounds like the shakiness of a sin- cere cry.
Tell Me I’m Pretty is a traveling sound machine, one that does not disregard our present-day worries. It is an album, and band, that uniquely achieves a new age interpretation of one of the most iconic eras of music.