With Cage the Elephant’s sophomore album, Thank You Happy Birthday, the band strays away from the straightforward blues and punk inspired rock of its self-titled debut, instead opting for a very diverse and much more modern-sounding record.
From the opening track, “Always Something,” it is clear that Thank You Happy Birthday isnot an attempt to repeat the mold of the band’s debut. The mid-tempo song boasts a syncopated drum beat and an effects-driven lead guitar riff that wouldn’t seem out of place in a James Bond film. Overall, the song carries a dense atmosphere, and its production is much more advanced than the stripped-back sound of the band’s previous record.
Throughout on Thank You Happy Birthday, there is hardly any trace of the slide guitarblast of the band’s 2009 hit single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” In fact, the record seems to owe more to late-80s Pixies records than to early Rolling Stones singles. Vocalist Matthew Shultz’s shrieks in songs like “Indy Kidz” and the frantic “Sell Yourself” are reminiscent of Surfer Rosa-era Frank Black. The lead guitar lines in “2024” are pure Joey Santiago. And “Aberdeen,” with its strong melody, pounding bass guitar, and feedback-laced guitar solo, could pass for a Doolittle outtake.
The band also seems much more in tune with its softer side this time around. “Rubber Ball” revolves around strummed electric guitar, relatively subdued vocals, and hardly any drums. The album’s closing track, “Flow,” is only slightly more upbeat, with shakers and hand drums serving as percussion.
Of the Thank You Happy Birthday’s highlights, which include the record’s first two singles, “Shake Me Down” and “Around My Head,” and the aforementioned “Aberdeen,” the track “Right before My Eyes” stands out as the album’s best. The song is one of the catchiest by the band, and plays as a fairly simple rock song with a great melody. The song can be heard in its original version, and as an acoustic hidden track following the album closer. The acoustic version is particularly great: it shows the band at its most personal, without tons of studio production to muddy the emotion in Shultz’s voice.
Overall, Thank You Happy Birthday goes beyond the expectations for Cage the Elephant’s sophomore release: it shows the band reinventing its sound by incorporating new influences into its palate and even taking a few risks. The result is positive, and it will offer the band a chance to transcend the “one-hit wonder” label and make more great music in the future.