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Cage The Elephant's "Neon Pill" Took A State of Psychosis to Complete

May 19th, 2024

Photo via NME

Cage The Elephant's Neon Pill is an album that comes with a rather fascinating backstory. The band's frontman Matt Shultz has explained that throughout the creation of this album, he was in a state of psychosis. Now, this was not just a "crazy" or "wired" state, but a literal psychotic state. The singer was prescribed medication by medical professionals that came with some unintended side effects-- delusion, paranoia, and general confusion. So much so that he believed people were hunting him and, ironically, tampering with his medication. The entire time he was paranoid about something being wrong with the medication, he didn't know that it was the medication itself causing him to feel that way.

Because of all of this, he carried illegal firearms with him in New York, ones that were legal in Kentucky and Tennesse. His loss of reality witheld him from understanding that there is laws in place, which ultimately led to his arrest. On the arrest, Shultz said, “The arrest, without a doubt, was a miracle. It saved my life" (Via NME). So, there was certianly some interesting inspiration going into the creation of this record, but somehow, it still stands as a rather bright and feel-good body of work.

Right away, it opens with a track reminiscent of albums such as Melophobia and Tell Me I'm Pretty. "HiFi (True Light)" is an indie-rock dream, quite on brand for the band, but it's also easy to see some lyrics that were most likely influenced by this state of psychosis. "Up down, turn around, okay, no I'm fine." I read this as being jumpy and paranoid, especially when the paranoia is that someone is coming for you or is trying to poison you. "Rainbow" is one of my favorites for its catchiness and feel-good summer energy. This is one I am absolutely stoked to see live! The high pitched guitars and singable chorus are hard to resist. "The lights go out, and I'm back inside that hallway / Shadowboxing shame and self inflicted mind games." It's so fascinating to me how a song so appealing can have such dark and personal lyrics by its side, but that's quite obviously much of the pattern on this album.

"Neon Pill" was the first single to be released, and in all honesty, I was not sold on it the first time I heard it. But now, listening to it in the context with the rest of the songs along with the backstory makes it much more enjoyable to me. "Like a loaded gun, my love / Double-crossed by a neon pill." Again, just the first three songs prove this album to be indie-rock heaven. "Float Into The Sky" holds a darker catchiness, sporting moody piano and lyrics that feel lonely and depressing. While I don't have first hand experience in this department, from what I've learned, being in a delusional state can be one of the most isolating feelings to experience. Not being able to trust anyone, constant paranoia, derealization. This song portrays so deeply the loneliness that this experience probably brought to Shultz, and yet still in such a groovy way. I'm four songs in, and already, the cohesiveness of this album has shocked me, especially coming from such an insane experience.

"No need for affection / Just a perfect deflection / When you got no perspective / Every day spent far from my family." In his interview with NME, Shultz stated that "Metaverse" was written about the urge to always run. If he felt unsafe, he'd check in to a hotel or move around, but it's also about the fear of being used or preyed on while in the state that he was in. The track is actually quite sad when you really think about what he's saying, but the worst part is that it still makes me want to dance because it's so catchy. "Out Loud" slows things down a lot and holds the tone I would've expected for much of this album. Soft strings and a gut-wrenching vocal delivery portray the unknown; the way in which it feels to know you messed up and but being unable to face the truth.

Sassy and bold, "Ball and Chain" opens with just bass and drums. Something has got a hold of our subject, "It's a ball and chain / With the golden handcuffs / You can carry me away / If I say my bad, you can trust in that / Only one holds the keys / To the ball and chain." Seems like some of the same ideas in "Out Loud", knowing you're the problem but also the solution. It holds this kind of witty delivery that makes the song super engaging and fun. This has also become one of my favorites, and I especially love the layered guitar intermission towards the end of the track.

"Good Time" has a rap-like start with punchy piano chords and scratchy, strangled guitar. It transitions into a gloomy chorus, like an overcast day that's trying so hard to be sunny, but it's still bringing everyone down. The song's appeal comes a lot from its strangeness and the peculiar feeling it conveys. This is easily my favorite song on the album. "Shy Eyes" says, "You cut through my human condition." Every song has been so incredibly interesting, what do these words mean to the band? I adore vague and ambiguous lyricism because of how much of it is left up to interpretation, and Cage The Elephant has outdone themselves on that account. "Silent Picture" is another with some pretty ambiguous words that tell a story, but you don't really know what of. "Trying to put the pieces together / Like a silent film he'd watched a thousand times before / She sank beneath the scene / Silently, she screams."

I am blown away with the storytelling lyricism in this album. "Same" has such a wonderful and smooth progression that it's hard not to instantly fall under its spell. With such a traumatic source of inspiration, the album does seem to leave off on a rather uplifting note with "Over Your Shoulder". "Don't look back over your shoulder / I'm not saying don't ask / When it feels like it gets colder / Every season will pass." It's the final push of hope, one that says life eventually moves on and things will get better, no matter how bad it gets. "Believe me, I'm experienced," sings Shultz. Things were once very broken for him, it seems, but Neon Pill is a return to a life outside of delusion. The band will be on tour this summer so be sure to see them in your city!


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