RCA – December 18th
Up until now, Cage The Elephant have appeared content to leave production duties in the same pair of hands – Jay Joyce worked his magic on their first three full-lengths. They’ve now turned to the services of Black Keys man Dan Auerbach for album four, Tell Me I’m Pretty – and he’s left his mark all over it.
No disrespect to The Black Keys, but Cage The Elephant didn’t need to sound like them. Lead single ‘Mess Around’ is a peach of a filthy rock ‘n’ roll track – but it could have been even peachier. It’s the story of much of the album really: a Cage The Elephant who’ve admirably evolved in sound, but one with an identity crisis.
At its best, Tell Me I’m Pretty sits easily on a par with the already impressive back catalogue of Kentucky’s finest rock ‘n’ roll crew. ‘Cry Baby’ is as mean an opener as you’re going to come across; ‘Trouble’ is just as tender and sentimental as its stunning emotional equivalents on Thank You, Happy Birthday and Melophobia; ‘Sweetie Little Jean’ is a bluesy triumph that contains the album’s most firmly-sticking lyric: “Has melancholy taken you for good? / You know that I would save you if I could”. Elsewhere, however, Auerbach’s influence is all too apparent, to the extent that it feels as much like his record as it does the band’s.
Ultimately, whilst by no means a step backwards, Tell Me I’m Pretty feels like a missed opportunity for Cage The Elephant to add to the three captivating chapters of their career they’ve written so far. Sure, the key components that make them the much loved band they are remain, but they’re not used to anywhere near their full effect. Is it a coincidence that all this has come about after a change in producer? Probably not.
The most difficult Cage The Elephant LP to involve and engross yourself in – it takes effort – and it’s hard to argue that that isn’t in part, or a lot due to Auerbach’s involvement. Who knows, perhaps it was always their intention to sound like The Black Keys, but in any case it’s the least distinctively Cage The Elephant record yet, and the least exciting. It’s as solid as one ought to expect but if you’re looking for thrills here, you’ll be hard pushed to find them.