Cage the Elephant have come a long way since their self-titled debut album. From debuting at 171 with Cage the Elephant on the Billboard charts to reaching the top 20 with the two following albums, their exposure has skyrocketed, along with the level of polish in their music. The heavy blues of their past has all but given way to a more refined alt rock style, which worked wonders on Melophobia. Tell Me I’m Pretty takes this style even further, while simultaneously stripping it back.
Tell Me I’m Pretty is largely a practice in minimalism. Despite the squealing guitars and blues charm that dominated the pre-release teasers of Mess Around, the album rarely comes close to Mess Around’s Black Keys influence, despite being produced by Keys member Dan Auerbach. Whether they’re ballads or just simple rock tracks, the arrangements are much simpler. This leads to some songs that lack any major impact, with around half of the album’s tracks meeting this fate.
However, it makes up for this on the remaining half. Cold Cold Cold and Punchin’ Bag pack themselves with percussion, drowning everything else in its chorus with the constant thud of a kick drum and the jingle of a tambourine or something similar. Trouble and Portuguese Knife Fight, meanwhile, act as welcome throwbacks to older Cage the Elephant tracks, while Cry Baby stands out due to its use of the blues influence that the rest of the album largely shied away from.
The hushed tone has some additional positive effects as well; Matt Shultz’s vocals shine as bright as ever, with his raw, almost slurred style being a continued highlight of their music, and their riffs and melodies showing off a strong knowledge of how to work in this new style. Even if the other half of the album isn’t as strong, the lack of energy it contains is the biggest issue Tell Me I’m Pretty faces. Most of the time the new style works well for the band, and hopefully future Cage the Elephant albums will show an even stronger application of it.