On their fourth album, Kentucky band Cage the Elephant refurbish mid-Sixties retro-rock with a 21st-century studio vividness – creating something akin to watching old footage of Sandy Koufax or Bill Russell in crisp hi-def with modern camera angles. Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach,Tell Me I’m Pretty evokes the Yardbirds, the Easybeats, the Hollies and the acne-scarred Nuggets bands that had one-hit fun ripping off those British Invasion bands, along with a dollop of “Crimson and Clover”-style avant-bubblegum wooziness. On the album-opening “Cry Baby,” psychedelic fuzztones swirl and rush up like fresh lava, while songs like “Cold Cold Cold” and “Mess Around” scream with garage-soul heat and dirty crunch.
But Cage the Elephant aren’t trying to replicate the music they’re honing in on – there’s a big difference in tone and mood. Even at their most horndog angsty, those LBJ-era kids were bristling with wild enthusiasm; Cage singer Matt Shultz seems more jittery and frayed. The languid dream-folk standout “Trouble” sounds gorgeously burnt, with a vaguely hounded feel that evokes red eyes hidden behind mirror-shades. “Sweet Little Jeanie” is where the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” meets a grisly, punked-up dead end (“We pinned your missing picture up on every mother loving post/How’s it feel to be a ghost”), and the trouble-girl heroine in “Punchin’ Bag” isn’t just a neighborhood hottie with a rep, she’s a horror show who “carries a knife.” These guys aren’t just reliving classic sounds, they’re giving them a frantic sense of dread that’s perfect for our own dislocated, paranoid times.