The first listen of Cage the Elephant's defiant, sassy, self-titled debut album is by all means a raucous one. Lively and uninhibited, Cage the Elephant, is from first to last utterly enjoyable. Unimpressed? See how many other contemporary albums you can listen to from beginning to end without pressing shuffle.
Lead singer Matt Shultz has a unique set of vocal chords. There's a scratchiness there (sometimes enough to make you start subconsciously digging through your pockets for a lozenge) and also a stickiness (that makes you start to wonder if maybe he hasn't already had a few lozenges too many). When he's not skating up the scale, he's skating down it, with all the bluesy ease of a slide guitar. And speaking of guitars, they are the proverbial powerhouse of this band. They take control of every song, drums and lyrics following close behind, for a satisfying sound that may be the closest any modern music fan can find to that purest genre of "rock."
The album's first single "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," is an instant and undeniable radio splash if only for its rhythm alone. But the real iridescent gem here is the opener, "In One Ear" a song about everything that a rock band stand for. It condemns critics, vacant-eyed fans, consumerist culture and everyone else who doesn't understand. In some ways, it's the kind of song you wish you'd had in high school, a song and an album to listen to with your headphones on as you traversed the hallways of teenage unrest.
If nothing else, any music fan has to have respect for the band's integrity. The Kentucky quartet certainly earned their ticket out of obscurity, signing with EMI Records in 2007 after playing hard at the festival circuit in England. They returned to the States for their first album, winning themselves a dedicated and trans-Atlantic fan base. But their popularity should be no surprise the music has all the right ingredients, from the rollicking brazenness of classic rock n' roll to the rowdy insolence of punk. Clearly, this is a band that has fun and makes you have fun, and if you can sit through their set without getting up to dance, well then, they'll leave you far behind. Watch out haters, "In One Ear" is dedicated to you. - Nora E. Lindner