Kentucky rockers Cage The Elephant battle the idea of "fear of music" on their third album, Melophobia.
Vocalist Matthew Schultz mentions in a Rolling Stone interview that he made a conscious decision on this album not to hide behind poetry —instead write how he actually speaks — in an effort to portray the songs for what they really are, not what they purport to be. "The entire record was a struggle to maintain that naked honesty," he told them. "And I tried to do that for every song."
With that in mind, this idea of "fear of music" seems to have two possible interpretations. One being fear of hiding behind the music, hoping it can mask vulnerabilities, and the other being the risk of branching out into a sea of sounds that may or may not be cohesive. That's probably not the band's intended interpretation — but the album kind of has a "just roll with it" attitude to begin with, so... just roll with it.
It starts off with "Spiderhead," a paranoid, high-energy jam that deviates greatly from the band's eponymous debut, introducing Melophobia as a maturation of their sophomore effort. It walks the line between fitting on Thank You Happy Birthday and fitting within the darker context that the new album supports.
The album's single, "Come A Little Closer," is one of its strongest tracks with a driving chorus and a nice layering of lo-fi guitar licks, keys and a steady beat.
Lyrically, the album is more introspective that Cage's two previous efforts. "Telescope" takes that introspection to another level with Schulz imagining himself as a third person observer to his own life. He contemplates all of the time this "character" is wasting with raw, vulnerable vocals over ominously psychedelic organ and guitar interplay.
At this point in the album, what is clear is that everything is chaotic. The tracks don't really have any cohesion, and the sounds are spastic. That said: each song is substantial, if occasionally overdone.
Alison Mosshart adds a female perspective to the record on "It's Just Forever." It evokes the vibes of The White Stripes (but that could just be The Dead Weather-influence talking). The vocals are spooky and smooth, and the repetition of the word "forever" delivers the feeling of infinite despair. It ends in an unexpected jazz piano riff, though, which is kind of fun.
Some of the accents the band chose to add throughout are a bit weird and somewhat distracting, but are ultimately intriguing rather than off-putting. As bizarre as the spoken-word ending of "Teeth" might be, it engages in a Black Francis-esque way. Also, if anything had been missing from Cage's repertoire that Melophoia gets right, it is the careful sprinkling of brass. The Beatle's reference on "Hypocrite" is a nice little gem, too.
The album wraps up having taken you through the depths of Schultz mind - which is at times paranoid but mostly just introspective and possibly self-deprecating. It leaves you with an oddly cheery feel on "Cigarette Daydreams," a track that essentially admits that Schultz may not find the answers he is looking for, but maybe that's okay.