Cage the Elephant: ‘Melophobia’ Track-by-Track Album Review

Cage the Elephant released their junior album Melophobia in October of 2013. The progressive album was given a positive nod by music critics and subsequently nominated for Best Alternative Music Album for the 2015 Grammys. While St. Vincent may have snagged the award, this album deserves no less attention. Filled with nostalgic, energy-driven, and psychedelic sound, it is by far Cage’s best album yet.

The album kicks off with “Spiderhead,” a quick, steady song that grabs the listener at the start with a heavy down beat. The sound of this track is raucous with a distorted rhythm guitar and a large mixture of percussion sound. The lead guitar even appears to me mimicking the voice in an antagonizing manner by following him at the end of verses such as “say you want it too” and “tell me it’s okay.” It’s a fitting part considering the concern of the song, which seems to be an infatuation with a woman who is just pulling him along. Though no matter what he is dragged through, he’ll be alright.

The song ends with a crushing time change that resembles the skipping of a record. It’s an excellent segue into the hit single from the album, “Come a Little Closer.” This song has a psychedelic feel with minor induced chords.  The tone of the lyrics are very open and emotional. Shultz appears to be talking about how self-absorbed and blind people are to what’s really going on around them: “come a little closer / then you’ll see /…/ things aren’t always what they seem.” The song is pleading for change with the repetitiveness of “come on” in the chorus and straight out asking for it. To push the point further, at about 2:35 in, the song quiets down to almost nothing, encouraging you to listen. From here they state how people just keep doing the same thing through life without ever really examining it: “they all sing along/time flies by.”

Following the album powerhouse is “Telescope.” This song slows the pace down with a pulsating beat influenced by a chime-like effect. The theme of this track is essentially looking from the outside onto yourself as if through a telescope. The individual is fearful of discovering himself and really examining where his life is at and where it’s going. Either “It’s time well spent / or time I’ve wasted.” Those lyrics introduce a very pessimistic view on life, leaving no room for the gray. It’s either black or white.

“It’s Just Forever” rocks into the next track. This is a big switch from the previous songs just heard on the album. Alison Mosshart from The Kills is guest vocalist on this morbid love song. The focus is on being in a relationship that lasts forever until they “decompose / and the skin falls off…(their) bone(s).” Instrumentally, this song is fast-paced and adds a lot of exciting energy to the album. The overall sound is constantly moving and changing but always comes back to a slowing pound to start each verse. The rhythm guitar even begins to add in some nice arpeggios. The ending on this one is a little strange with the piano key plucking and screaming, but perhaps fitting for such a deathly relationship.

We begin to unwind the intensity with “Take it or Leave it.” There is a grooving beat to this one that makes it hard to resist swinging your shoulders in true Matt Schultz fashion. The rhythm guitar brings in an older sound to this song, reminiscent of 1960s surf rock. The subject of being in love with someone that’s not in love with you is repeated in this song, pegging it for one of the main themes of the album.

“Halo” is the next track to follow, keeping with a similar theme and chord structure as “Take it or Leave it.” This track deals with falling for another over and over, even though you’ve try to break away: “every time I get away / you find a way to reel me back in.” Unlike the previous songs, this deals with a new angle on a relationship with the main character actual wanting out of it.

The grinding “Black Widow” follows. This song is my least favorite on the album. One of the reasons is the whole “black widow” metaphor for a highly attractive (but ultimately evil) woman is a bit overplayed in music. I’ve heard this song in many different renditions and just find it to be average. I also don’t particularly care for the falsetto used for the chorus. Schultz’s voice has better uses.

“Hypocrite” is the next track up and starts with a nice rolling drum sequence that gives me the image of a waves breaking on a shore. This track features brass sounds that adds another dynamic for the band to play with. While in the song it’s stated that “I guess that I’m the hypocrite,” it seems that statement is made out of sarcasm as there is questioning for blame to the end of a relationship and a direct statement that he “won’t ever do that again.” Overall, a great smooth tune.

After “Hypocrite” comes a high energy piece titled “Teeth.” This song is loud and exhilarating all the way through. Teeth are considered to be a very sensitive part of the body, so the fact that he can feel the beat all the way to the depths of his teeth just means to me that band’s in love with this song. This is an ingenious way to express love of music, rather than just relying on the heart or soul as it would typically be wrote out. There are sounds coming from all over the place on this track: beat change-ups, screaming saxophones, blaring trumpets, grungy bass, sliding chords and more. Schultz himself described this track to as being “about the vibrancy of life and how things are changing,” and the song stays true to that meaning.

The speaking part of this track came about in a very interesting way. Schultz invited several of his friends over and, aided by wine, they would start speaking openly about anything. No trying to make their words sound like something else, just talking in pure honesty. Schultz took the words from these meetings to form the spoken part of the track. When you consider this perspective, those words become quite interesting and thoughtful.

The soft sound of “Cigarette Daydreams” is the last track on the album and by far one of the strongest. Starting with gentle acoustics, the track has a nostalgic feel as if the sound and lyrics themselves are recalling a past memory: “I can see it clear as day.” The bass line doesn’t join until the first chorus and when it drops off afterwards, it gives the song a free feeling. This is a really nice transition that compliments the lyrics and overall emotion, allowing a break between heavy and bittersweet. The subject is about the constant search in life for answers as to why things happen as they do. “You wanna find peace of mind/looking for the answers in the pouring rain.” Ultimately, the search will continue on and no real answer can be found. Honest, true lyrics really come through on this one, making it a beautiful song.

The definition of Melophobia is “fear of music.” While Cage the Elephant certainly is neither afraid of music nor its power, they are more expressing the fear of “not pushing music to its potential” as stated by the band themselves. With this album, there is a wide range of rhythms and sequences to be experienced. The band has also progressed immensely in terms of lyrics, likely due to the process of just writing as themselves instead of trying to project an image. This album really gets closer to the heart of who the band is and where they’re going, clearly pushing their music farther than before.