Cage the Elephant tries to take a step back from music and the industry pressures that surround it on their third studio album Melophobia. Released on the Virgin EMI label, Melophobia proves to be the band’s best work to date. They have developed since their earlier albums, Cage the Elephant (2008) and Thank You, Happy Birthday (2011).
The term melophobia, literally meaning “fear of music,” is Cage the Elephant’s metaphorical understanding of how the mainstream music industry operates and how a disenfranchised, independent artist should be apprehensive to major labels that are laden with artistic red tape.
Lead vocalist Matthew Schultz’s lyrics have become deeper and pithier; the words have more weight in their meaning. Lyrics such as “I watched the strawberry fields / dry up and wither away” from “Hypocrite” carry a double entendre that 1) pokes at the idea that mainstream music’s biggest success (the Beatles) has aged and become (possibly) uncool or forgotten about (even though they won’t be out of humanity’s memory for millennia); and 2) that the figurative “strawberry fields,” the ideal promised land, the dream for many people may now be unobtainable, quite possibly not “forever.”
The album opener “Spiderhead” alludes to the cobwebs that the average music listener/producer has let accumulate over the decades of white noise that pop music has produced. The lyrics “Spiders in my head, spiders in my mind / You may take my eyes, but baby I'm not blind” paint the idea that there is a mental cloud being cast over society, but that there are conscious citizens who are aware of this reality.
The most-commercial track on the album is “Come a Little Closer.” It’s a definite hit that should garnish the Elephant more attention, and, in doing so, hopefully shed more light on the elephant in society, popular culture, and the systemic hegemony that surrounds it.
Other big tracks on the album include “Telescope,” “Halo,” and “Hypocrite.” The album’s last two tracks, “Teeth” and “Cigarette Daydreams,” respectively, are big; it feels like they are trying to be powerful tracks, but they just miss the definition of the word powerful.
When Schultz sings, “Are you into the beat? / I can feel it in my teeth / and it’s driving me mad” on “Teeth,” he is pointing out how the masses so easily have the wool pulled over their eyes by mainstream media—they are “into the beat.” This fact must annoy Schultz to no end, much like the annoyance of having something stuck in your teeth—you are very well aware of its presence, and it’s getting under your skin, your gums, but there is almost nothing you can do to eradicate this obtrusiveness. The multimedia giants have sunk their teeth into the population.
Schultz goes on to mock the authoritative control that mainstream media gatekeepers have on the average person (music listener in this case) when he commands, “Now shut up and dance.” Then, in the middle of the song, the album takes a huge shift that is mirrored within the musical breakdown and the perspective becomes not of one that is critical but rather inquisitive, then bright. In spoken word, Schultz asks, “Where have all the storytellers gone? / Just when did I become so eaten up by moss and covered in a cloak of popularity? / And then lose my voice in between the echoes of self-serving prophecy? A captain without a ship. A chief without a tribe.”
“Cigarette Daydreams” ends the album on a brighter-days-to-come note. Even the music, the acoustic guitar and Schultz’ softer-than-usual voice, instills a feeling of hope within the listener, a daydream of what could be.
For their third compilation, Cage the Elephant has developed in numerous ways and is just about where they need to be in their musical career. With Melophobia specifically, they have achieved their goal—it stands out from its predecessors. However, the band’s iconic Pixies-esque sound does not stand out whatsoever, which is not necessarily a negative, but doesn’t qualify their originality.
Their incorporation of blues and punk into the rock genre is done in superb fashion, and this third album will surely be received well. Let us just hope that the listener will get the message.