Kings of Leon are now streaming their new album Come Around Sundown on their web-site. It doesn’t come out until next week, October the 19th, but I’m just glad I got the chance to stream it. It’s not bad, but it’s incredibly mediocre, which I find more offensive. At least if the album was really terrible, I could laugh at it like I do with anything that Nickelback , Live, Daughtry or Creed puts out.
Kings of Leon used to be my one of my favorite “new” bands. I’ve seen them about 5 or 6 times at various different places. In 2004, they were a completely different band. Their fabled beginning of being preacher’s sons hadn’t worn out its welcome. You knew that these guys were probably got shit-faced every single night, and had a slew of girls waiting for them at the end of the show. And they looked like they just crawled out of the hotel room – unshaven and unkempt – ready to unleash their Stooges meets The Band hybrid of garage-rock.
Their second album Aha Shake Heartbreak was a water-shed moment for rock in the 2000s. It was different than everything else that was out there – everything about it was dirty. The flower on the cover looked like a vagina, Caleb Followill spat out lyrics about passing out in front of models at a party due to whiskey-dick. And the music was pretty with such intensity and fury, that you could practically smell the beer-sweat on the guitar strings. Even the slower songs even left a burning impression.
2007’s Because of the Times found them discovering new sounds and textures, but many of the songs still contained the furious pace of their first two albums. When I first heard “Sex on Fire” I thought it was a pretty good single, but it didn’t prepare for how shitty Only By the Night would be. It seems that Kings of Leon think that by adding open space and letting a song breathe equates to a fantastic song.
Come Around Sundown continues this trend. Every song is mellow and laid-back. But it lacks originality and emotion. All of the songs seem to run into one another. Guitarist Matthew Followill seems to think that The Edge is the only guitar player worth listening to. (And while I love U2 and The Edge, that particular sound becomes trite and boring when imitated.)
I’m all for bands growing and changing. But it doesn’t mean you have to mellow your sound and become like everybody else. I never thought that one day I might confuse a Kings of Leon song with one by Coldplay, Snow Patrol or Keane.
Back in 2008, when Kings of Leon released “Only the Night” I was a bit disappointed with the direction that the band seemed to be going in. They had abandoned their dirty rock roots opting instead for a clean, shimmery clean arena ready sound. Even “Sex on Fire” the album’s sole “rock” song was washed in delays pedals. A band who spent three albums creating a distinct sound, suddenly sounded like everyone else. And while Kings of Leon’s guitarists is pretty decent, it was clear he was learning tricks from a certain knit-capped wearing guitarist who’s made an entire career out of using delay pedals.
The Edge is very inventive and knows how to construct a song based on atmospherics that only enhance Bono’s bombastic singing. The Edge wasn’t the first to create icy delays in rock song (it’s usually credited to Tom Verlaine of Television) but he certainly took it further than anyone else. It’s a sound that has made U2 distinctive, and like it or not associated with The Edge himself. Throughout the years, even The Edge has forgone his trade-mark style, looking for inspiration in distortion best seen on 1991’s “Achtung Baby”.
Somewhere within the past decade almost every single up and coming band that wanted to be reach as many fans as possible seemed to copy U2’s signature sound. It’s as if the guitar players from Coldplay, Snow Patrol, The Killers, among others each had a delay pedal and placed the settings on “Edge” and hit record. Unfortunately none of these bands are as good as song-crafting or inventive as U2, and they all of their front-men lack the charisma of Bono. These artists think that by aiming big and copying U2 they will be seen as a serious band with importance just like their heroes. Too bad that their efforts just come off as flat and pompous.
Two years after “Only By the Night” Kings of Leon released the first single from their forth-coming album “Come Around Sun Down”. I was hoping that they would opt for a stripped down sound in constrast to the sheen of “Only By the Night”. Amazingly, they not only set the guitars to “Edge” again, but they also managed to bring in a choir. When U2 played with a choir for a live version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at least you could tell they meant it.
Dear Kings of Leon,
I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a long time. I’m not mad at you for making Only By the Night. It’s a bit polished for my tastes, and had some decent songs and two absolute masterpieces (“Closer” and “Cold Desert”). “Sex on Fire” wasn’t bad, but you’ve an entire album (Aha Shake Heartbreak) on the same subject, but it sounded original and different. You’re not pop-stars – you’re among the best rock and roll bands out in the scene right now, so with your next album prove to everybody that you’re in it for the long-haul. Take a cue from one of your own songs below:
(I’ll love you forever, I swear.)
I still like Kings of Leon, but Only By the Night was kind of a disappointment – Mellower songs, and too many Edge-like guitar effects compared to their Allman’s meet Stooges thump on their first two albums Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak.
Until it came on my Ipod the other day, I forgot about the song “Trani” (which according to drummer Nathan Followill even had Bob Dylan floored when they opened for him a few years back.) Listening to this song, it’s hard to believe that these guys would actually top the charts and make Itunes best-selling album of 2009.