Kings Of Leon had seemingly lost their way in 2010 with Come Around Sundown, a collection of mediocre songs which never hit the mark as the stadium anthems they were intended to be. On top of that, personal problems emerged within the band, with Caleb Followill’s ongoing problems with alcohol forcing their 2011 US tour to a premature end. As a result, despite the band’s assertions that they ‘fell back in love’ with making music during the recording of this album, many will approach it with caution.
The album begins with lead single, Supersoaker – a strong opener which fuses Matthew Followill’s jangly guitar and the distinctive rough vocals of Caleb Followill. Add in a catchy chorus and rousing breakdown and it already becomes clear that Kings are back in business with a sound that is sufficiently garage and polished in equal measure to convince both sides of their fanbase. Don’t Matter is even more encouraging; three minutes of grungy punk somewhat reminiscent of the Stooges, which kicks off with a scream and lines like “Take my heart, tear me apart, it don’t matter to me” seem to be borne from the band’s frustration during their darker days. One can imagine this being a moshpit favourite at future gigs.
Beautiful War is a slower ballad that takes Kings into the stadium rock territory that they had failed with on their previous album. However this track is stirring with a sing-along melody and lyrics which feel more heartfelt than the generic content of numbers like Use Somebody, which won the band mainstream success. Second single, Wait For Me, is one of the more moody tracks on the album, with Followill’s darker guitar groove giving the track an effective undertone of melancholy.
This is in high contrast with the funky Family Tree, which is driven by Nathan and Jared’s great rhythm work and has strong rock and roll and gospel influences (especially with its breakdown and handclapping) – an album highlight. Comeback Story is another fairly strong ballad defined by the meaningless yet somehow profound line, “I walk a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a mile away, and I’ve got your shoes”.
However, thereafter the album disappointingly loses pace quickly and returns to that empty listlessness which made Come Around Sundown a dull affair. Tonight sounds like a mixture between The End and The Immortals from the band’s previous album, and the remaining tracks do not even merit a mention as Kings by this point sound like they have completely run out of steam.
The first seven songs of this album though are amongst the strongest the band has recorded, and there is great variety in style and influence which makes for an interesting listen. Also pleasurable to hear is the band’s evident joy in playing these songs, clear from the audible screams and laughs on two of the tracks and frequent guitar solos and breakdowns. A return to form, but one feels the best of Kings of Leon is yet to come.