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“Social Cues:” A Short and Slightly Obsessed Review

The album art for Social Cues, the 2019 album by Cage the Elephant.
The album art for “Social Cues,” the 2019 album by Cage the Elephant.

Cage the Elephant, the American rock band responsible for hits such as “Cigarette Daydreams” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, just announced the release of their sixth studio album “Neon Pill,” coming May 17, 2024. In a bated anticipation, I have been a devout fan of the band since I discovered them in the summer of 2020. As I wait for the release of new music I find myself wanting to shed some light on the excellence of this band. “Social Cues,” their most recent album, was released in 2019. It won the 2020 Grammy for Best Rock Album, and, more importantly, it is probably my all-time favorite album. With no skips (seriously), “Social Cues” has an eclectic sound with each track having a distinct taste. The album highlights the dark side of rock stardom and fame, mirroring the personal conflicts of lead singer Matt Shultz, this album is one of dance-pop, electronic rock, subtle reggae hints, melancholy tone and sweeping bridges. 


Track 1: Broken Boy

What an opener. The heavy guitar and ripping drum riff set you up for this fast-paced track. Shultz, in a defiant and almost reckless voice, sings:

I was born on the wrong side of the train tracks

I was raised with a strap across my back

Lay me on my side or hold me up to the light, yeah

I was burned by the cold kiss of a vampire

I was bit by the whisper of a soft liar

These lyrics have always gave me a Halloween feel, a lost, muddled personality hidden by a mask of false arrogance and anger. The chorus erupts with the main argument of the singer.

Broken Boy, how does it feel? (x2)

In a painstaking real request, the chorus pleads to the audience in a way for help. This track always piqued my ears, especially as the opener. It has one of the most rock-forward sounds on the album in terms of angst. For an album driven by negative emotions, this song exemplifies the negative self-image associated with one’s reflection on substance abuse. 


Track 3: Black Madonna

A song about infidelity, the fatal fall of stardom, and the struggle between love and self-respect. With a catchy riff and a satisfying drum beat, Black Madonna has a pleading sound. The song starts by explaining the singer’s love interest. A starlet, caught in the euphoria of fame. 

Don’t you forget what goes up must come down

Climb so high, tell me how it feels

Call me when you’re ready to be real

In an almost warning tone, this song feels like an omen for young rock stars. Do not let fame eat you alive. The song switches between chorus lines, Black Madonna, hallelujah, and Black Madonna, my black flower. As the song reveals, there is suspected cheating involved with this mystery woman. This song relies on a consistent drum beat and lyrics that make you want to dance. This album tends to trick you in a way. The songs are so catchy but the lyrics are so somber. This duality is so important to the character of the album as an artistic piece as a whole. 


Track 10: Dance Dance

This is a moment of grace in the album. A simple song that does make you want to dance. It brain-washes you with its upbeat drum line and chorus of angelic “ahhs”. A funky interlude of guitar sets up the satisfying ending. The lyricism in this song is poetic and I enjoy its ridiculousness. 

Down on the corner, polyphonic visions 

All the eyes were diamonds, technicolor wishes

Five-star paranoia, Hi-Fi superstition 

The song begins to question itself. As it progresses it becomes evident the speaker is reflecting on this picture-perfect world they bought into. The lights start to dim and the truth is revealed. 

Are we vibin’, or just lyin’?


These are just small examples of the album. Honorable mentions go to “Skin and Bones” and its impeccable bridge, “Tokyo Smoke” and its gritty sound, “Night Running” and its techno-reggae excellence and “Goodbye,” a beautiful ballad and finale to an awesome album. Everyone has their favorite albums for various reasons, I enjoy this album for various reasons, sound, story, production quality and variety for example but more importantly, this album holds memories for me. “Social Cues” was the favorite track of my old coworkers, “Skin and Bones” was streamed so much that my younger brother stole it for his own playlist, “Night Running” held my hand as I sat under the stars teary-eyed after fighting with my Mom after she found my self pierced ears. “Black Madonna” is a college anthem of mine for no good reason. “Social Cues” has become an ol’ reliable, an album of comfort that has yet to get old. Every time I hear these songs I stop and listen, a moment of mindfulness. And isn’t that the truest reflection of artistic excellence? Give this album a listen and stay tuned for the new album release.

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