Typical of well-established and Grammy-winning bands, Cage the Elephant seems to rely heavily on the sound they’ve been producing for years. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to keep the same sound, Social Cues, their fifth studio album, is arguably the safest of the five they have released in terms of its sound, but even with that, the project manages to bring up issues of anxiety and falling apart that, while presented bleakly, are real and can be found within everyone.
Social Cues was created while frontman Matt Shultz was going through a divorce, so from a first listen, it seems like a typical break-up album. Yet, somehow, the project becomes more melancholic than anticipated. The album goes over a wide array of grievances in life, ultimately turning the entire work into a sonic mid-life crisis in which listeners follow both the fear and reality of pure exhaustion and emptiness felt towards life, relationships and fame. A distorted synth behind pleads of “Tell me why I’m forced to live in this skin” and “Tell me how I’m supposed to be forgiven” on album intro “Broken Boy” immediately throws us into the angst that sets up the rest of the album. The heavy weight of exhaustion put onto the listeners continues, and the anxiety hidden behind the seemingly energetic group is heard on the title track, one of album’s stand-out songs. The upbeat tune is accompanied by gritty lines like “Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over/ Don’t know if I can play this part much longer” and represents the messages spread throughout the album.
Social Cues continues with songs that highlight falling apart, whether it be in a relationship or within yourself. “Skin and Bones” follows the inner struggle of fighting and trying to cope, while “Ready to Let Go” shows listeners the mind of someone that comes to terms with needing a divorce. While everyone hasn’t gone through a divorce, the message of learning to let go is something universal, causing everyone listening to feel some sort of pain in remembrance. Once we get to “The War is Over,” we see a sense of peace and acceptance with all of the exhaustion and fighting preceding it. This tension that has built up throughout the album, the struggles and pain, finally start to break away.
Closing song “Goodbye” is a heartbreaking and somber end to the album. The slowest of the thirteen songs, Matt Shultz turned it into a final message to his wife, reminiscing over the good times they had and how difficult it was to finally let go. Over the course of Social Cues, we see an overarching story of struggle, anxiety and acceptance. It isn’t the happiest album, but every listener can find themselves somewhere within it.