Kentucky-based Cage the Elephant gained fame last year with a blend of sounds from funk to punk and a penchant for artsy, strange music videos. The band has undergone drastic changes in sound and persona.
But in their second album, Thank You Happy Birthday, the alterations have proven to be for the better.
Thank You Happy Birthday opens with “Always Something,” a droll song that haunts the listener with the simple-but-eerie guitar work of Lincoln Parish and Brad Shultz.
As spooky as the opening song is, the air surrounding “Always Something” is a perfect fit for the cynical and depressing lyrics that set the song in motion, generating an intriguing blueprint for the album.
After “Always Something,” the album offers a lineup of abrasively honest songs. Some reveal the stereotypical shortcomings of pop culture, love and society. Others are more artistic, engendering a quasi-grunge experience.
Daniel Tichenor’s banal bass line holds the song together, accompanied by disjunctive vocals and spurts of electronic feedback. “Aberdeen” is highlighted by its catchy chorus and artistic quirks, especially the quavering voice of lead singer Matt Shultz.
“Indy Kidz,” serves as one of the band’s more satirical songs, exploiting the clichéd ideal of fitting within society’s scenes.
The song opens with a facetious introduction, and Shultz seems to merely read the lyrics, not even trying to sing.
Still, this lack of musicality strategically adds weight to the song’s emphatic statement.
The lynchpin of Cage the Elephant’s album is “Shake Me Down,” as the single is both a nonpareil song and an embodiment of everything unique to the group.
Shultz’s scorching lyrics ring throughout the song, which segues nicely into another one of Cage the Elephant’s polished hits, “2024.”
The articulate instrumentals of both create a vivid audio-backdrop for the listener.
The more rambunctious songs on the album, including “Sell Yourself,” present vivid sounds in a different fashion.
The aggression in the lyrics and the dissonance of the instrumentals collaborate to paint a perfect portrait of chaos fueled by the frustration of people not staying true to themselves.
Of the later tracks, “Around My Head” shows the widest breadth of musical artistry by paying homage to the Pixies, incorporating realistic lyrics of frustration that listeners can relate to.
Primitive chants and screams that draw out the character of the song and peculiar similes, such as Shultz’s introspective comparisons to “bread ties” and “homemade elevators,” further compliment the song.
The album abruptly transitions to “Sabertooth Tiger,” slapping the listener in the face with Jared Champion’s beastly drums, the rest of the band’s raucous instrumentals and Shultz’s savage vocals. Guitar effects, unexpected tempo changes and dramatic pauses make “Sabertooth Tiger” an exciting piece of desperation.
Following the animal pattern, “Japanese Buffalo” begins with a melancholy story-like introduction to soothe the listener, but in classic Cage-the-Elephant-like fashion, proceeds to catch the listener off guard.
Another fast-paced song, full of incoherent lyrics and gibberish at some points, along with throat-wrenching, ear-piercing screams, “Japanese Buffalo” builds to a controlled roar.
The album wraps up with “Flow,” an unclenched finale paired with a bonus track: an alternate version of “Right Before My Eyes.”
The latter is a bogged down version of the original with elegiac vocals and placated instrumentals.
“Flow” and the transformed version of “Right Before My Eyes” successfully bring Thank You Happy Birthday to a serene conclusion and end a diverse album that manifests Cage the Elephant’s true selves.
The musicians showcase their identity with a morphed creative process and a fresh sense of musicianship.
Simply put, listeners will find that Thank You Happy Birthday is an insanely fun album.