Cage the Elephant takes another step with 'Thank You, Happy Birthday'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Cage the Elephant have kind of adopted the role of sons to the punk/garage revival of the early 2000s that brought the White Stripes, the Hives and others to the bright lights of stardom.
So here we are at the arrival of the all-important second album. The slow build of the debut is replaced with higher expectations and harsher criticism. Growth is expected, but if the best elements of the first record aren’t present, there will be grumbling from critics and fans.
With all that in mind, how did Cage the Elephant do on Thank You, Happy Birthday? Is it groundbreaking? No, but they are trying to grow on their first album’s sound, while keeping the loud, party vibe of the debut. There are quiet and loud moments, it’s occasionally funny, and for the most part, it sounds like the band managed to strike a nice balance between irreverence and maturity.
This is obviously not the place to come for groundbreaking lyrics, or the heartfelt. But it’s energetic and inventive, and thankfully they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Everything is a little tongue-in-cheek.
The distorted vocals become a bit much on “Indy Kidz,” but the shifting tempos on “2024” gave off a cool, fuzzed-out Ramones vibe. The band channels its inner Black Francis on “Sabertooth Tiger,” and while this might sound like a cop-out, “Japanese Buffalo” is a nice dose of unintelligible fun.
All of this makes “Rubber Ball” almost alarming when it comes on. This didn’t feel like a record that would have a ballad, but here it was, almost playful in its childlike sincerity. This band was branching out more than initially expected. Best of all, it worked. Quietly strummed with some noise in the background, the vocals hung in a sort of raised whisper, complete with a near-laugh in the chorus. Six songs in, this listener didn’t expect a haunting and affecting track.
Ultimately, this album feels like the first step in a new direction. While still wild and heavy on the distortion, there’s a pop sensibility on display, a clear move towards bigger audiences. Whether they keep their records interesting from here on out is up to them. In the meantime, this one is well worth a listen.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org