Wednesday, September 24th 2008
Reviews: Kings Of Leon
Only By The Night is the record I’ve wanted Kings Of Leon to make since they hit the scene. It seemed like their first album, Youth And Young Manhood, was a sign of salvation, tapping into some diamond-in-the-rough Southern roots rock that’s been bubbling upwards for years, threatening to spill over into the mainstream. Dave Grohl works a narrow line there, rawking like a slightly-subdued Dave Wyndorf or Andrew W.K., playing Freebird at shows, but with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Grohl is no longer fresh and new, however. He’s carved his niche and isn’t setting any standards anymore.
That’s why the Kings Of Leon gave us hope. How many other bands sport a masterpiece like Holy Roller Novocaine on their debut? We prolonged our attention spans for the sake of seeing where they’d take us, but the Kings ended up pulling off more of a Strokes act than an Allman Brothers uprising, and their second album wasn’t the timeless masterpiece everyone was hoping for. Actually, it kinda sucked.
Their third attempt, Because Of The Times, was a step in the right direction, and a sign that the boys were evidently getting their shit together in preparation for bigger things. Only By The Night is that bigger thing, the Kings’ leap into true classic relevance. And for the first time in years, maybe because they’ve headlined Glastonbury and sold out London’s massive O2 Arena in less than an hour, singer Caleb Followill appears to be taking his job seriously. He’s finally stopped fucking around with the grumbling, incoherent moans long enough to let us know that his voice is actually kind of beautiful.
There’s no filler on this one. It’s earnest, erotic, heartfelt and atmospherically out of the ballpark of anything they’ve done previously, ranging from blues-stomp to even new wave without the expected awkward transitions. The early-nineties alt-pop guitar and bass riffs of Manhattan turns the song into something a lot more uptempo and fun than Caleb’s vocals seem to suggest. It’s one of those late-night cab ride songs, best played after several drinks with a pretty girl who’s showing all the right signs.
Use Somebody is the kind of song that wins over new audiences. FM-friendly, well-written and flaunting a mind-latching hook is going to keep the units moving on this for a while. Especially if they toss it in the slipstream of pop culture with an appearance on [insert stupid vapid TV show here]. The strong build-up to the chorus amplifies the energy when they do get there. The texture added by the backing vocals fill out the sound perfectly. Radio, here we come.
Double that for Notion, another rocker with big appeal. Girls looking for a little more meat than John Mayer’s honky blues can offer are gonna ride this one hard. Any remaining skeptics will fall on Sex On Fire. This song is exactly why the turn-and-burn label methodology is the poison in their own well: it took the Kings of Leon four albums to write this song.
The heartbreakingly regretful Revelry is buoyed by echoing guitar strokes and a Postal Service kind of beat. Put this one in the ‘make-up sex’ column. Speaking of sex, the jailbait ballad 17 flirts dangerously with Gary Glitter thematically, but there’s redemption in the earnest delivery.
I missed the memo that classic rock was fashionable again, but somehow it’s now okay for Kid Rock to reignite Sweet Home Alabama. Even weirder is that it’s completely fine by me. Only By The Night is not the raucous rock affair it was purported and advertised to be. But it’s a damn good album, and a progressive leap forward both melody and atmospherically. The Kings Of Leon are writing a new Southern rock chapter, and they’re fully equipped for the task.
Only By The Night
September 23, 2008
3. Sex On Fire
4. Use Somebody
9. I Want You
10. Be Somebody
11. Cold Desert