Cage the Elephant is one of my all time favorite bands. I got their track Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked a while ago, back when iTunes was still big and gave out free, weekly tracks. I’ve been hooked ever since. Their newest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty came out in December of 2015 and won the award for Best Rock Album.
The album itself starts off strong, slows down, then picks back up again for a strong finish. It has a slightly different sound than their prior albums, because Cage brough Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys on board to help them with their record. “Mess Around” and “Trouble” were both tracks released as singles. Both upbeat in nature, there’s still no one song that sums up the entire album. One thing for sure, though, is that when listening to this album, it’s hard not to remember all the late night joy rides I’ve taken listen to this album.
Tell Me I’m Pretty is a cup of coffee at the local shop. It’s the 20 something with circle lense sunglasses riding their long-board. Those late night drives or walks as the sun sets. Calming, free and just a sprinkle of pretentious.
On the album title, Matt Shultz, the lead vocalist, says, “There’s always this huge need to be loved, so it’s like ‘please tell me I’m pretty.’ It’s nice that it’s a phrase that has a surface, but it has kind of a dark undercurrent as well,” (iheart). The album has depth – it begs for validation (but deserves it too).
Throughout the album as a whole a women seems to be followed. In “Mess Around”, “she don’t mess around” yet she causes things to get hot – causes tension – while also driving people crazy (assumably with her looks). This follows the “Tell Me I’m Pretty” type of validation the title goes after, with the concepts of womanhood and beauty and the power it holds.
In “Cry Baby”, Cage talks of Capitalism, people “crawling all over one another”, trying to get ahead. “We all got something important to say/ But talking’s a waste of time.” This track really sets up the world for the rest of the album, this dog-eat-dog reality they live in.
Guitarist Matthan Minister expresses the feelings put into “Cold Cold Cold”, “That one hits really close to home. It’s a song that’s about that feeling of imminent doom that’s always looming overhead. I used hospital characters like a doctor, and a nurse, and a counselor to tell a story that’s about just feeling like you need to be checked into a hospital,” (iheart). An overall theme of this album is the connection to depression, to dark and heavy feelings weighing people down. In Cold, Cage is speaking to a Doctor, talking about he’s “breathing air” but that there isn’t “sign of life”. How he’s cold inside, using words like dead and dark. He pleading with the doctor for help, saying “something don’t feel right”. He later asks a counselor for help, feeling like he’s living a “double life”. “Cold Cold Cold” shows the results of the reality set up in “Cry Baby” while still allowing a personal connection to be felt about the dark elements of the song.
“How True You Are” starts with Shultz singing about saying a prayer. Self reflection is a reoccurring theme within the album; depression and trying to find the cause of it and get help. “Take a look at myself…stop and stare…I wonder who is standing there.” And at the end, there is the illusion to suicide, “Told me all your secrets, oh I never saw it coming/I thought that you were joking/You were actually quite serious.” When people kill themselves, sometimes they tell people their secrets – a circle back to the prayer, the releasing of sins and back to being validated and resolved of them.
Shultz opens up about their song “Punchin’ Bag”, “Funny story about Punchin’ Bag. There was a day in the studio my brother Brad [Shultz, Cage the Elephant’s guitarist] was being overly heavy-handed about the decisions that were being made, and it was driving me insane! So I wrote the song Punchin’ Bag about being the punching bag, you know? (laughs) I went on to change the story to it being about a battered woman, which I thought was a more interesting concept than being just about having a fight in the studio,”(digitaltrends). Even so, Cage continues with the idea of a strong women pushed to the edge. She been beaten and abused, snapped and won’t take any more. “She’s a stone cold straight-faced killer and a lover/And she won’t put up with another brood who only wants to bruise her/Take her love and then abuse her,”. “Heaven help ya she’s coming for you/Heaven help ya the girl likes to fight/Afraid of nothing and she carries a knife,”. She then declares that she “ain’t no punching bag,”. This is the second time a women is said to be coming for you. Once as a femme fatale figure and one as a women scorned.
Overall, not only is the music of Tell Me I’m Pretty quality, but their lyrics offer a deeper meaning to a desolate reality they create. Their world speaks to those who feel similar, who feel separate. The music behind it is catchy (some songs difficult with 13 chords) and the words ring true, especially to those just trying to find their way.