The thing about Cage the Elephant is that they just don’t give a fuck. Like, seriously, they just don’t care. Look at their name, for shit’s sake. Not to mention the nonsensical album title, Thank You, Happy Birthday. Then there’s the fact that the opener to the new album, as well as ‘Indy Kidz,’ begins with electronic squonks and/or synth noise. Sure, why the hell not? It’s what makes this young band so damn endearing: they do whatever they want and make it work.
But more importantly is CtE’s swagger – it’s pure arrogance. The band has taken the punk roots seen on its eponymous debut (especially ‘James Brown’ and ‘Judas’) and run with it. Just listen to ‘2024’ and its near-spiraling-out-of-control riff for proof. Ditto for the frantic, At The Drive-In-channeling ‘Sabertooth Tiger.’ Or how about the post-hardcore, batshit crazy ‘Sell Yourself’ and the accompanying, nonsensical lyrics like “Got this scalpel in my hands/ Trying to operate on this riddle.” The only reason any of this succeeds is because CtE know it will. It’s simply fascinating to watch.
And if the overly-prevalent aggressiveness of Thank You wasn’t enough, the band also expands on its other features. Much like ‘Back Against the Wall,’ this album’s slinky ballad is the single ‘Shake Me Down,’ a messy, chaotic little number with equally messy lyrics meditating on social isolation and broken relationships: “In my past, bittersweet/ There’s no love between the sheets/ Taste the blood, broken dreams/ Lonely times indeed.” Then there’s ‘Kidz,’ CtE’s most bizarre song yet. A commentary on the hipster indie scene, the five-minute dirge satirizes the ironic-for-the-sake-of-ironic and anything-popular-is-bad drivel that has permeated American culture: “I don’t watch TV ‘cause it’s just a box of lies/ It makes me want to stick a tooth pick in my mind.” The track even breaks down into complete disarray in the middle just to further emphasize its point.
All that said, the most notable aspect of Thank You is the lack of a breakout single like ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.’ Sure, there are catchy melodies (‘Always Something’ and ‘Around My Head’) but nothing as universal as ‘Wicked.’ That’s a good thing, though. It’s clear from the outset that this record is supposed to be the mature outing, the one where Cage the Elephant really show how great of a band they know they are (just two albums in and I’m already convinced that Matthew Shultz is this generation’s Mick Jagger), not just guys playing catchy hit songs.
OK, maybe they do care…just a little.