Cage the Elephant, "Tell Me I'm Pretty" (RCA)
"Hold on with all your might, you're gonna die, die," Matt Shultz sings on Cage the Elephant's fourth album. The song, "Cry Baby," goes bounding along on a triplet beat and a hopping bass line, but there's no hiding its morbid streak, which resurfaces throughout the album. Cage the Elephant, a band from Kentucky, has always been conscious of death — its 2008 hit "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" continued that thought with "until we close our eyes for good." But until now, the band's boisterous momentum always held grim thoughts at bay.
Cage the Elephant's music slices across multiple eras of rock. Its songs have pointed toward the Beatles, the Pixies, glam, grunge and garage-rock, topped by Shultz's rambunctiously frazzled lead vocals.
The band's previous album, "Melophobia" in 2013, defied its title with nervy, abundant hooks and pushy guitars; it reached the Top 20. But "Tell Me I'm Pretty" turns inward. The album was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who brings out Cage the Elephant's late-1960s and early-1970s affinities: analog-sounding keyboards, acoustic strumming, fuzz-toned electric guitars echoing psychedelia and T. Rex, lots of tambourine-shaking. But the bigger change is in the songs, which no longer promise that rock brashness can overpower adversity. "Sweetie Little Jean" uses steady music-hall chords to ponder the fate of a missing person, concluding, "I think we should just let go." A bleak ballad with hints of Radiohead and Oasis, "How Are You True" envisions, "All your days spent countin' numbers 'til one day you'll find that life has passed you by." The most hopeful come-on arrives in "Portuguese Knife Fight": "I wanna waste my life with you."
It's a daring, deliberate shift for Cage the Elephant. But in its single-mindedness, the album sacrifices the wildly seesawing balance between life force and mortality that gave the band its verve.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Cool Uncle, "Cool Uncle" (Fresh Young Minds/Empire)
With angelic voice, blue-eyed soul, and jazz both smooth and funky, Bobby Caldwell is a godsend. Yet, other than his 1978 world smash, "What You Won't Do for Love," his work has rarely entered pop's mainstream. Now he has created the act Cool Uncle, and its namesake album, with Jack Splash, a hip-hop producer/composer whose credits include Mayer Hawthorne and Kendrick Lamar. Their vision is retro without sounding kitsch, with sonic beds that give this vocalist and his guests a sympathetic, dynamic backing. Caldwell is in exquisite voice throughout, whether in the reverie "Game Over" or the optimistic disco-jazz of "My Beloved." Guests such as Hawthorne, CeeLo Green, and Jessie Ware are pleasant company, with Deniece Williams' gospel stop on "Breaking Up" the standout. But Caldwell is best on his own. On "The Cat Is Back" and the lounge-hopping "Lonely," he's front, center, and funky in the good company of a dynamic producer. Here's hoping Cool Uncle stays in circulation.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer