Cage the Elephant, "Social Cues" (RCA)
The new Cage the Elephant album begins with a spacy, otherworldly hum that's interrupted by some throbbing, insistent knocking. That leads to some machine-gun drumming and, as if a door has been opened, an infectious, high-tempo post-punk glam tune comes on. It's the sound of Cage the Elephant finally uncaged.
After taking a detour into fuzzy guitars, tambourines and a '60s vibe with 2015's "Tell Me I'm Pretty," the Kentucky alternative rockers have put out arguably their best collection of songs with "Social Cues."
The band's sound seems more genuine, their strut into personal disorder authentic. Singer Matt Shultz punctuates the opening song, "Broken Boy," with the occasional slurry, cocky "Yeah!" Confidence runs throughout this assured album as if the band has finally found a hard-fought consistency.
Their last album was produced by Dan Auerbach, who seemed to make the band bend toward his sound. "Social Cues" is produced by John Hill, who has let the band explore and play and really just breathe. The music is bouncy and filled with swagger, even as the lyrics reveal trauma.
Broken love is a prominent theme, the product of Shultz's marriage cracking up and lyrics return to infidelity ("unfaithful friend" and "you sound shifty"). The superb first single, "Ready to Let Go," brings us into a raw moment when a vacation between lovers breaks apart and the singer is "trying to hide this damage done." Shultz isn't angry as much as sorry in the gloomy "What I'm Becoming," singing "I'm so sorry, honey/For what I'm becoming."
But the album isn't completely devoid of hope. "Let the love light guide me home," Shultz sings on the melancholy "Skin and Bones." There's fatigue in "The War Is Over" but he acknowledges there was "love was on both sides."
The band does veer over the cliff with the overindulgent "Love's the Only Way" but team up with Beck for the truly terrific, driving "Night Running." The super title track also is a raw picture of insecurity: "Hide me in the back room/Tell me when it's over/Don't know if I can play this part much longer."
The album ends with "Goodbye," one of the saddest and most tender breakup songs ever recorded: "I won't cry/Lord knows how hard we tried," Shultz sings. His heart may be broken but thanks to this new album, you'll fall in love all over again with this band.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits