Cage The Elephant made a conscious effort to make an original sound on their 2013 album Melophobia, which resulted in one of their best albums yet. Tell Me I’m Pretty is a little bit more of a low-key release. There’s no standout single like ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’, ‘Shake Me Down’ or ‘Come A Little Closer’, but the album comes with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys in the producer’s seat, which seems like a natural friendship considering both Cage The Elephant and the Black Keys have a thing for classic rock and blues rock nostalgia. But that’s not where the influences are cut off – Tell Me I’m Pretty likes to rip off other artists so much that the originality that Melophobia brought to the table is wiped away by this clunky set of songs. Heres a handy list of easily recognised artists that Cage The Elephant borrow from: AM-era Arctic Monkeys (‘Too Late To Say Goodbye’), The Last Shadow Puppets (‘Cold Cold Cold’), the Black Keys (‘Mess Around’), the Beatles (‘Sweetie Little Jean’) and the White Stripes (‘Cry Baby’), and this is just half of the album.
If this was the Black Keys, we’d probably let them off. It’s what you’d expect from a band that’s had Jack White on their back for the most of the career, not to mention the classic rock disciples. But it isn’t the Black Keys. It’s a band that made an effort to create an original sound two years ago, and that sound was hard won. So it’s disheartening to see Cage The Elephant take two steps back into the comfort of garage rock where they aren’t too different from the rest of the nostalgia bands gathering dust. Interestingly, the best moments come when the band quiet their rock sound down into the acoustic ‘How Are You True’, which is another Beatles-alike, especially in the classic chord progression and frontman Matthew Schultz’s breathy vocals. But it works beautifully, especially with the strings that sneak in towards the end. On the other end of the spectrum, Cage The Elephant making a good garage rock song is the band doing what they do best on ‘Punchin’ Bag’, which has a blues-stomp to it and ‘Portuguese Knife Fight’ has an Iggy Pop-drawl to Schultz’s vocals, even slipping in a stutter or two into his voice. Fortunately enough, if you manage to sit through the so-so first half, the back end of Tell Me I’m Pretty has more of a Melophobia originality to it which the rest is sorely lacking.
Unfortunately, Cage The Elephant decide to go for an Arctic Monkeys/Beatles crossover for the rest of the album. ‘Too Late To Say Goodbye’ is as if Alex Turner decided to make a Bond song and goes as bad as that sounds. The drums and guitar hook are almost identical to the Jack White/Alicia Keys Bond song, plus the creepy similarity between ‘Too Late To Say Goodbye‘ and ‘Another Way To Die‘, delivered in the exact same way. Then you have the oddball Beatles tracks, with Schultz calling a woman ‘Sweetie Little Jean’ and ‘Cry Baby’s harmonious chorus ‘Cry-ah-eye’ is ripped from the early Beatles catalogue. If you want to get away from the obvious comparisons for a second, looking at the music plainly won’t exactly be of much interest either. The instrumentals are flat, Auerbach manages to wriggle some life into the more distorted guitars on ‘Mess Around’ and ‘That’s Right’ but buries the rest in the mix, apart from those hip-shaking drums on ‘Punchin’ Bag’. Schultz’s vocals are almost always spot on, either taking a softer tone or his rock god vocals for the harsher songs.
The problem with liking classic rock is that you have a limited pool to gather from. It’s called ‘classic’ rock for a reason, but Cage The Elephant are so intent on paying respect to every artist that falls under the rock umbrella that they can’t compete with rock bands pushing the boundaries, such as Tame Impala. Cage The Elephant have potential, they have even more danceability than the psychedelic Tame Impala ever had, so they’re already one step ahead. But where Kevin Parker would get bored of his sound and change it up entirely, Cage The Elephant sound a hell of a lot more antiquated than they did when Melophobia came out. The comparisons are littered about, and though they don’t ruin any of the bands they take from, Cage The Elephant don’t expand on any of the ideas those bands presented.
Funnel Recommends: How Are You True / Punchin’ Bag / Portuguese Knife Fight