Blast from the Past: TYHB // Cage the Elephant (2011)


On 11 January 2011, Kentucky rock-band Cage the Elephant released their second studio album – Thank You, Happy Birthday. With a variety of styles and musical influences, this album is often acclaimed as the piece of Cage the Elephant discography that demonstrated their versatility and breakthrough talent as a band across all pop, punk, indie and rock genres.

Following their debut album in 2009, thought to be very heavily influenced by British indie and pop bands at the time, Cage the Elephant returned with Thank You, Happy Birthday and a brand-new sound came with it. The newer American punk-rock sound gave Cage the Elephant a new reputation and a new fanbase as they became an amalgamation of all things indie, punk and old-rock-nostalgia all in one unique sonic powerhouse.

The album boasted four singles, namely Shake Me Down which peaked when it topped the US charts at number one and remained on the Billboard Chart for 32 weeks. The music video for the single was also a huge success for the group, and even received a nomination for Best Rock Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2011. 

During the first week of release the album debuted at number one on iTunes, number two on the Billboard 200, and received acclaimed praise from many critics including Rolling Stones’ Jody Rosen — announcing them as now “one of rock’s best young bands.” 

The album is thought to have been penned as a reflection on the difficulties that lead vocalist Matt Schultz experienced whilst growing up, which would ultimately become one of the qualities about Thank You, Happy Birthday that fans resonate with the most. When reflecting on the release, many speak of the time that this record defined for them — or can recall what their lives were like at a time in which Cage the Elephant provided the soundtrack. The element of nostalgia that tracks such as Aberdeen or Flow bring when listening back to the record makes it feel like 2011 all over again, but it is remarkable to snap back out of that time-capsule and realise how much the band has grown since.

In an interview with Wayback Machine’s Doug McCausland in late 2015, Schultz reminisced about the iconic album whilst discussion how an artist grows with each release, saying that:

“I think there’s always a sense of ‘something you would have done differently’ when you look back. I don’t consider it to be regret or anything like that, but I’d like to think that you are learning about the creative process. You reincorporate and elaborate on every album you make.

“There are definitely some times where I look back and wish I had let more of myself into the album. Earlier in my life, I had so much stock in the persona and believed too much in ‘the character’ in the realm of pop and rock music, whatever pedal you want to put on it. The modern… whatever. It’s part of the story, and it is what it was.”

For an album that is so special and iconic to fans it may be surprising that the band wish they could’ve changed the album that arguably established Cage the Elephant as the eclectic and diverse phenomenon that they are in the punk-rock world.

Over the past decade, the band have grown immensely and reached arguably the pinnacle of their careers recently when winning Best Rock Album for their latest studio album, Social Cues (2019), at the 2020 Grammy Awards. In the past decade, Cage the Elephant has not followed the suit of other bands from the noughties and recreated their sound too much. This is one thing amongs many that keep bringing me back with every release, the bizarre yet comforting feeling of hearing new music for the first time yet still feeling nostalgic. Since Thank You, Happy Birthday, Cage the Elephant have had many incredible experiences, including playing Glastonbury and Coachella and releasing six records including their most recent Social Cues.

Cage the Elephant are planning on making their return post-lockdown with a gig in Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park, Pennsylvania, and with Social Cues recently breaking the record for the first album in over a decade to achieve three number-one singles on Billboard‘s Adult Alternative Songs airplay chart — it’s sure to be a big one.

Words by Caitlin Parr

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