Having followed them from the very beginning, though nothing to brag about really, it’s great to see when a band can move past that “hope they can make more albums” phase, that many bands fumble and fade away through after their debut records (talking to you, Foster the People). Cage the Elephant not only had some successful singles on Thank You, Happy Birthday and Melophobia, but now they’re on their fourth record, and it honestly sounds amazing. Sure, most of that sound is due to production from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, but it’s a collaborative effort.
On Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cage the Elephant writes material reminiscent of Album by Girls. It’s a very cohesive sounding record, their best since their self-titled debut, and comes at us like a cool Cage the Elephant / Black Keys produced / Beatles inspired / chill recorded version of what must be amazing live project. “With this record,” explained vocalist Matt Schultz, “we wanted to be more transparent. We wanted to capture the sentiment of each song, and whatever emotional response it provoked, to be really honest to that.” And it’s a really honest young rebel love sounding record. Where the production shines through, like the background vocal placement / processing, and the use of what seems like reverse hi-hats over regular hi-hat recording, like on “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” the lyrical content is also really strong.
My favorite part of the record however, comes on “Mess Around.” As cliche as picking the single as the favorite may be, this time it really deserves it. “Cry Baby,” the opening track, establishes the sound and feel of the record, rock music from the ’60’s, with distortion seemingly placed at least a little on everything, with backed-off Julian Casablancas Strokes-era type of hidden distorted vocals. It all works great, but the real sonic magic comes in the transition to “Mess Around.”
“Cry Baby” is mostly mono-like, with the far most left and right space of the sound encompassing some drums and guitar tracks, but altogether the majority of the sound is pretty centered. It all changes on “Mess Around,” when the pristine guitar tracks come in only on the sides, and the transition is just perfect. It’s something that you would only get from listening to the record, since the single doesn’t have a whole song come before it. It doesn’t take anything away from the song, but it’s in that transition why the song works so well, and it’s that combination of song material and the right production that makes this Cage the Elephant record so great.