Cage the Elephant forgets its roots with new album

Cage the Elephant's sophomore effort lacks cohesion. Photo via Jive-R.E.M.

With the second semester beginning, lots of Marquette students are surely hoping for a successful “round two,” regardless of whether last semester was a knock out or simply left them knocked out.

Hopefully their round two is less disconnected than that of Cage the Elephant, who released their startling and chaotic sophomore album “Thank You, Happy Birthday” Jan. 11.

With their 2009 self-titled debut, Cage the Elephant redefined the Southern funk-rock genre with rowdy and bluesy songs like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “In One Ear.”

But rather than adhering to the Red Hot Chili Peppers-type groove of their self-titled debut, “Thank You, Happy Birthday” roams far from their Southern funkadelic roots, instead migrating into post-punk disruption that obliterates the very features that made the band popular in the first place.

Cage the Elephant keep up a high-strung, percussive racket for most of the album, filling the songs with clanging, crashing and thudding and adding to the clamor with pounding keyboards. Their return comes with uneasiness and angst, yielding deafening guitar riffs, blood-curdling screams that can hardly be considered vocals and hard rock jam sessions that might remind you of your favorite metal album.

“Thank You” could have worked well as a progressive punk album if Cage the Elephant had carried this idea through the entire record. However, since there are also songs that seem to recall the band’s funk-rock ambition, the album only serves to provide a haphazard mismatch of aesthetics.

Lead single “Shake Me Down,” for example, begins with a familiar Southern swagger and funky, feel-good demeanor that hearkens back to their debut and represents the strongest part of “Thank You.”

But from there, “Thank You” is largely confusing. The band travels too many different roads, shaping an angsty attitude with the head-bopping rock ditty “2024,” crafting delicate, acoustic ballads like “Rubber Ball,” dipping themselves in grunge territory with “Sell Yourself” and “Japanese Buffalo” and ending with a nearly eight minute soft rock jam that fits even less than everything else.

The most blatant misstep is an example of the unfortunate punk/metal approach: the ironically titled “Indy Kidz,” which surely any aficionado of indie music will strongly despise. Though the lyrics of the song attempt to address the “indy” notions against the mainstream (apparent with lyrics like “I don’t watch TV cause it’s just a box of lies”), all other attempts are lost within the noise.

The unpolished lyrics cluttered throughout “Thank You” don’t help, either. The worst offender, “Around My Head,” presents a choppy lyrical style that leaves the song feeling unfinished, especially with the monkey-like “ooo ooo aaa aaa’s” that lead into the chorus.

Cage the Elephant shouldn’t be discredited with an all-around poor effort, but rather with a collection of songs that simply don’t work well together.  Each song on “Thank You, Happy Birthday” would shine on its own, but strung together, they lack the fluidity, consistency, and overall thematic continuity that should bind an album together.

Pick up a single or two if you want, but don’t expect the album to be valued for anything more than a white elephant gift.