- by Justin Pearson Rating:8 Release Date:2016-10-14 Label: RCA
The first three Kings of Leon albums seem to be the benchmark by which subsequent efforts have been measured among fans and critics alike. If you follow certain indie publications, it almost seems to be a trend to hate on the band for not sticking to their earlier formula. The more established, go-to rock magazine Rolling Stone recently dubbed 'Around The World' from KOL's latest album WALLS as "Led Zeppelin-esque." Mean, bitter outcries swiftly populated the Facebook page. There's a sort of unjustness in this haste, though, because if you objectively listen to the tune in question it is in fact reminiscent of Zeppelin, calling to mind 'D'yer Mak'er' in the very least with its danceable, funky percussion and synth line punctuated by the high-pitched guitar.
Much has been said about KOL's brand of "arena rock", and they've been too often labeled as sell-outs. Yes, stadiums and arenas sell out when they're on tour, but that doesn't necessarily make them unworthy of attention or any less credible as musicians. Years ago concerts were filled to the brim for bands like U2, Queen, etc. But for some reason, that once aspired-to designation of "arena rock" is now reserved for bands that sound too comfortable, as if getting into a groove and drawing a legion of fans is somehow a negative in the era of DIY/Avant-Garde indie acts gaining ground solely on the internet and/or word of mouth.
I've always maintained that if KOL had arrived in the 60's or 70's, they would be looked back upon with reverence instead of the wave-of-a-hand dismissal that accompanied their last few albums without giving credit where credit is due. So they may not be as progressive or boundary pushing as they were in the beginning, but why does a band even need to be when passion is the catalyst? After all, if it makes the listener feel, isn't that the point of any and all music?
If you take tracks from their back catalogue like 'Manhattan' from Only By The Night, 'Knocked Up' from Because of the Times, 'Comeback Story' and 'Last Mile Home' from Mechanical Bull, it's clear that cuts beyond the usual radio fare of their albums point to songwriting that's not only inspired, but worthy enough to be considered classics now and in the future.
On WALLS, the Followill brothers and their cousin are back to more of what they do best, tweaking it a little bit with the enlistment of producer Markus Dravs, who's worked with the likes of Coldplay, Bjork and Arcade Fire. The result shows them more settled in their skin while still adding some of the edginess and push of yesteryear. Whatever side of KOL fandom you're on, it should be enough to unite the divided lines.
Opener 'Waste a Moment' along with 'Find Me' both have the energy of Mechanical Bull''s 'Supersoaker', the latter embracing the wind-driven sweep of any 80's-era hit you can think of.
'Muchacho' is a downtempo ode to a friend of the band who recently passed away, complete with Wurlitzer and whistling by a sweetly meditative Caleb Followill. Its dusty, tumbleweed aura gives the sentiment an authenticity that's not only touching, but appropriate in light of the pal/camaraderie theme: "He was my favorite friend of all."
The Bruce Sprinsteen-ish title track 'WALLS' is direct, heartfelt, and a perfect showcase for lead singer Caleb Followill's achy, gravel-dirtied vocals that barely fight restraint during the song's last chilly, tear tugging verse: "You tore out my heart/ You threw it away/ The Western girl with Eastern eyes/ Took a wrong turn and found surprise awaits/ Now there's nothing in the way."
'Over' is stunning - epic even - and takes their penchant for giant, sing-along choruses to new emotional heights, resulting in not only one of the album's best tracks, but also a shining example of what the band is capable of when the nitty-gritty of songcraft becomes more of a focal point. Caleb lets loose in his characteristic, endearing howl on the last verse, causing his chorus-belted pleas of "Don't say it's over" to be that much more poignant: "My angel hovers over/ The light comes crashing in/ I know it's how this here story ends/ I'll hang around forever/ Until you cut me down/ All pressed and ready to face the crowd."
'Conversation Piece' is equally intimate in execution and sentiment while 'Eyes On You' comes out punching with a dance/rock beat that compliments perfectly a line like "You're my misfit and I'm your freak/ Dance all night 'til our knees go weak/ We can shut this place down/ No one else is around." Like much of the album, both songs are dripping with an instant likeability factor that either a casual or hardcore fan will easily appreciate.
WALLS isn't quite at the status of masterpiece, but it's not far behind. It's a referential hard copy of an underrated band that certainly has nothing to prove, despite what the naysayers say. What WALLS does admirably is pull together the big, accessible sound of recent albums, pairing it with the southern-rock originality found in the deeper cuts of their earlier work. The opening lyrics of penultimate track 'Wild' sees Caleb beckoning: "Like in a mainstream melody/ Oh I want to take you in/ If you come around..." If this, then, is the mainstream, I'll surely take him up on his offer and start swimming in it.
Impassioned review/defense of the band. Also, good point about the on-going issue fans have when their band's appeal (and critical indie love) takes the band beyond the gilded cage of those same selfish, myopic fans.
Good review and I definitely agree that there has been an almost predictable backlash with some recent releases from some former everyman-darlings (Mumford & Sons comes to mind here). While KOL have never really clicked with me before, I...
Good review and I definitely agree that there has been an almost predictable backlash with some recent releases from some former everyman-darlings (Mumford & Sons comes to mind here). While KOL have never really clicked with me before, I actually kinda dig this record.