The Elephant Uncaged
You can set a ballet to the music of Cage the Elephant’s first two releases, with the titular pachyderm as your protagonist who struggles to be free of his prison, and once liberated struggles to find himself in the big, scary world. The Bowling Green, Kentucky band’s eponymous debut sits firmly in the pocket of modern garage-rock, reminiscent of Elephant-era White Stripes (coincidence?) fronted by Matt Schultz’s Beck-meets-G. Love vocal stylings. Thank You Happy Birthday reveals a side of CtE that feels more like an escape than an evolution.
There is a scream in the first 10 seconds of the first song, “Always Something,” that foreshadows moments in some of the songs to follow. An excellent introduction to the album, it immediately announces that TYHB is not going to be anything like its predecessor. The song is strong enough that fans will not be turned off, and it continues this way until the third number, “Indy Kidz,” takes the album in a different direction. The cacophony of guttural yelling and dissonance could be accepted as an artistic choice, but it happens a couple more times in other songs, and only serves to takes one away from the song. By the time the pretty, luau-like “Rubber Ball” comes on, listeners may experience anxiety, fearful that the serenity might be interrupted by violence. Thankfully, it’s not. And to solidify the peace, the next track, “Right Before My Eyes,” is perfectly wonderful.
Some of the songs could have been lifted from outtakes of the Pixies’ Doolittle—in some places that tribute succeeds (as in “Around My Head”) and in others it fails—but the overall impression is that the once-caged elephant has been freed, avoiding those who try to corral it. It stampedes, takes a drink, wanders around, rears back, roars, and is by the closing number, “Flow,” finally tamed.