Cage the Elephant Unpeeled

Album Review by Rustyn Clark

 

Shame! Shame I say! If you roll your eyes at the idea of your favorite slacker rock band chillaxin’ with a four-string quartet on tour to record a live, acoustic, greatest-hits album and you’re thinking you want to skip this one, shame-the-hell on you! 

 

Just like they’ve been doing since their debut album in 2009, Cage the Elephant is doing things their own way. According to frontman Matthew Shultz, even though Unpeeled is a live album and acoustic, it doesn’t mean they didn’t fold in sublime layers of sonic magic in post-production to achieve their very own sound. 

 

The most beautiful part of the entire album is the fact that you can hardly tell it was recorded live. Sure, there’s the crowd cheering and screaming and the occasional echo of a stray note bouncing off an auditorium ceiling – but you really have to listen closely to notice those. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was a studio production. Whether it’s the captivating renditions of your favorite CtE songs or that the masterful editing isn’t apparent – in either case the album makes for a surprisingly enjoyable experience with a band that bends over backwards to please their fans.

 

RCA Records originally meant Unpeeled to be a “Greatest Hits” album, but the band felt like that would be a goodbye. These 21 tracks are anything but a farewell – this album represents a taste of things to come. Talking to Billboard, Matt Shultz admitted, “…we feel like we're just getting started.” They’ve taken their best and re-worked them to be gentler and more appealing to a wide audience. The subtle hints at laid back 70s rock might even lure your mom to give them a thorough listen. Eighteen of the tracks are, despite their reluctance, greatest hits with a mellow acoustic twist. The other three songs on the album are plucky covers of other artists’ greatest hits: The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush,” and the last of which, Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” easily becomes an ear-worm you’ll be fighting the rest of the day.

 

Though stripped of the electric buzz we’ve come to expect from Cage the Elephant, the string quartet give “Shake Me Down,” and “Trouble” a surreal feeling that’s hard not to appreciate. But the shiniest gem of the album is their most infamous song, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Responsible for all the string arrangements on the album is Nick Bockrath, who gave this iconic song special attention ensuring the distinctive twang of the original version still caught the ear without the help of electrified feedback and distortion. 

 

Unpeeled feels so calm and more harmonic than what Cage the Elephant is known for, that it is hard not to feel nostalgic for the frenzied energy we’ve come to know and love. The nostalgia for our favorite songs is short-lived though. The naked feeling of CtE’s acoustic grace highlights a vintage folk sound that gives new life to our old standbys.

 

Throughout the entire album, the only downer is the fact that some of the songs almost sound exactly as you’d expect – which is a shame considering how exciting the others are. “Shake Me Down” might suffer from neglect the worst, the strings are so masterfully woven into the music that you almost don’t know there even are strings. Though disappointing only if you wanted a fresh acoustic version of this song, one can’t deny the skill it took to use a cello to sound like an electric guitar and bass. You’ll have to overlook that and enjoy anyhow – the song is still excellent and sounds familiar, not so bad, after all.

 

They’ve already had a busy year of touring, but plan to finish the year out with more festivals before beginning work on their next record. Being their first album released since their 2017 Grammy award-winning album, Tell Me I'm Pretty (released in 2015), Unpeeled proves that this band really is just starting to explore what they can do. Do yourself a favor and give the album a listen – don’t let the 21 tracks intimidate you, they go by faster than you’d think.

 

 

Cage the Elephant Unpeeled

Album Review by Rustyn Clark

Shame! Shame I say! If you roll your eyes at the idea of your favorite slacker rock band chillaxin’ with a four-string quartet on tour to record a live, acoustic, greatest-hits album and you’re thinking you want to skip this one, shame-the-hell on you! 

 

Just like they’ve been doing since their debut album in 2009, Cage the Elephant is doing things their own way. According to frontman Matthew Shultz, even though Unpeeled is a live album and acoustic, it doesn’t mean they didn’t fold in sublime layers of sonic magic in post-production to achieve their very own sound. 

 

The most beautiful part of the entire album is the fact that you can hardly tell it was recorded live. Sure, there’s the crowd cheering and screaming and the occasional echo of a stray note bouncing off an auditorium ceiling – but you really have to listen closely to notice those. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was a studio production. Whether it’s the captivating renditions of your favorite CtE songs or that the masterful editing isn’t apparent – in either case the album makes for a surprisingly enjoyable experience with a band that bends over backwards to please their fans.

 

RCA Records originally meant Unpeeled to be a “Greatest Hits” album, but the band felt like that would be a goodbye. These 21 tracks are anything but a farewell – this album represents a taste of things to come. Talking to Billboard, Matt Shultz admitted, “…we feel like we're just getting started.” They’ve taken their best and re-worked them to be gentler and more appealing to a wide audience. The subtle hints at laid back 70s rock might even lure your mom to give them a thorough listen. Eighteen of the tracks are, despite their reluctance, greatest hits with a mellow acoustic twist. The other three songs on the album are plucky covers of other artists’ greatest hits: The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush,” and the last of which, Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” easily becomes an ear-worm you’ll be fighting the rest of the day.

 

Though stripped of the electric buzz we’ve come to expect from Cage the Elephant, the string quartet give “Shake Me Down,” and “Trouble” a surreal feeling that’s hard not to appreciate. But the shiniest gem of the album is their most infamous song, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Responsible for all the string arrangements on the album is Nick Bockrath, who gave this iconic song special attention ensuring the distinctive twang of the original version still caught the ear without the help of electrified feedback and distortion. 

 

Unpeeled feels so calm and more harmonic than what Cage the Elephant is known for, that it is hard not to feel nostalgic for the frenzied energy we’ve come to know and love. The nostalgia for our favorite songs is short-lived though. The naked feeling of CtE’s acoustic grace highlights a vintage folk sound that gives new life to our old standbys.

 

Throughout the entire album, the only downer is the fact that some of the songs almost sound exactly as you’d expect – which is a shame considering how exciting the others are. “Shake Me Down” might suffer from neglect the worst, the strings are so masterfully woven into the music that you almost don’t know there even are strings. Though disappointing only if you wanted a fresh acoustic version of this song, one can’t deny the skill it took to use a cello to sound like an electric guitar and bass. You’ll have to overlook that and enjoy anyhow – the song is still excellent and sounds familiar, not so bad, after all.

 

They’ve already had a busy year of touring, but plan to finish the year out with more festivals before beginning work on their next record. Being their first album released since their 2017 Grammy award-winning album, Tell Me I'm Pretty (released in 2015), Unpeeled proves that this band really is just starting to explore what they can do. Do yourself a favor and give the album a listen – don’t let the 21 tracks intimidate you, they go by faster than you’d think.

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