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.
If you’re only used to hearing Kings of Leon through “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” Caleb Followill’s voice thoughout Aha Shake Heartbreak must come as a shock. The sweet, tender, soulful voice is nowhere to be found. Instead he sounds like a drunken Murmur-era Michael Stipe whose southern accent is even more pronounced. The lyrics are purposely slurred, and inaudible.
“The Bucket” is the highlight of an album full of stand-out tracks. It begins with Matthew Followill’s guitar riff that lies somewhere between lazy and commanding. The hangover has ended, and the party is just beginning. Someone shouts “wooo!” and the song turns into a shuffle once Nathan Followill rolls his drums in.
Before Kings of Leon got big I used to describe them to people as “the stooges drinking whiskey” or the “Allman Brothers on heroin”. “The Bucket” isn’t country-punk, but it’s certainly country influenced and played by a garage-rock band. Interestingly, “The Bucket” has fast verses, and slow choruses – the exact opposite of most Nirvana songs.
The song is apparently written by Caleb Followill to his younger brother Jared (KOL’s bass player) who was just 17 at the time of the recording to help him deal with the band’s newfound fame (they were huge in Britain for years before hitting in the US.) “You kick the bucket, and I’ll swing my legs” seems to imply a brotherly relationship – we’re in this together. By the end of the song, Caleb’s “gonna show the way,” and you know that he means it.
Like much of Aha Shake Heartbreak I became obsessed with “The Bucket” because even 5 years later, it sounds like nothing else.
No matter what you think of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder can sing. And he also happens to be one hell of a performer. He’s also an avid fan of music in general. Pearl Jam sets are known just as much for their wide variety of covers as much as anything else. It’s little wonder that he’s performed with dozens of bands and artists. So he’s a few of my favorite Eddie Vedder guest appearances:
Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band: No Surrender (2004)
R.E.M. & Eddie Vedder: Man on the Moon (2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Introduction)
Pete Townshend & Eddie Vedder – Heart to Hang Onto (Letterman 1999). Vedder has played numerous times with The Who and Townshend, but this has always been one of my favorites since I watched it when it aired.
My Morning Jacket & Eddie Vedder: It Makes No Difference (2006? Maybe?)
U2 & Eddie Vedder: Old Man River (2oo5)
Kings of Leon & Eddie Vedder – Slow Night, So Long (2007). Best version of this song ever. Also, if you only know Kings of Leon by way of “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” they tear it up on this one.)