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Cage The Elephant Bravely Go ‘Unpeeled’ [Stream/Review]

It’s been a big year for Cage The Elephant. This year, the group boasted a Grammy win, a well-received “Live And Unpeeled” tour earlier this year, and now, a new album, Unpeeled. Their winter tour served as a chance for the band to strip down and repurpose their songs, presenting more bare-bones remakings of some of the classics out of their catalog. The seamless transitions marked by string sections and dramatic pace shifts demonstrate the rock-solid power of Cage The Elephant’s material in the first place. Unpeeled serves as a remarkable document of a band ready to look at its songbook and wonder, “What if?”

You can stream the entire album, then be sure to check out our thoughts on this provocative project below.

“Cry Baby” leads off Unpeeled with a sound reminiscent of early British Invasion-era, psychedelic acts like Procol Harum. Vocalist Matt Shultz even uses a delay and chorus eerily reminiscent of the 60’s to capture this distinct tone. The clean organ work of Matthan Minster adds to this effect on the first single off the album, “Whole Wide World.” Crowd favorites like “Shake Me Down” and “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” remind listeners that this is, indeed, a live recording.

“Spiderhead” sees a lilting string arrangement that runs counterpoint to guitarist Nick Bockrath‘s distortion-tinged solo, which helps elevate the tune heavenward. This Americana break is a welcome departure from the first three tunes. “Take It Or Leave It” further shows that the Unpeeled concept is no one-trick pony. Dropping an infectious jam-based guitar lead into the more straightforward music style yields a very pleasing result, which ultimately becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Check out the just-released video for “Take It Or Leave It” below.

Variations on the form take over about halfway through the selections. “Aberdeen” takes on a punk spaghetti-western vibe while “Golden Brown” would likely have been a chart hit in 1965. The timeless effect Cage The Elephant captures throughout the disc is remarkably and a testament to the field recording crew and the knob twisters that perfected the sound in the mastering process. The balance between live variations and jaw-dropping clarity is an impressive accomplishment unto itself.

As the set of tunes winds to a close, there are still gems left to be unearthed, including an expressive take on the missed-connection sadness of “Cigarette Daydreams.” The rueful but powerful sing-a-long that ends the tune demonstrates the fan base’s readiness to follow Cage The Elephant’s lead, no matter which direction the band chooses.

With the clean, simple take on their own catalog, Cage The Elephant shows a fearlessness that is admirable. In their quest to find a fresh angle, they actually have stumbled upon another marketable version of their project. It will be interesting to see what, if any, long-term effects this tour and new release have on their sound in the future. Or, even better, maybe, the band still has more tricks up their collective sleeves. Either way, Cage The Elephant has plenty to be proud of in their willingness to go Unpeeled.