Kings of Leon
Southern rock family Kings of Leon was once a band loved and cherished by all three of us at LxL, but the band spoiled quickly following their commercial breakout Only By The Night, even landing our #4 slot on our Bands Breaking Bad list. Their last album Come Around Sundown was a full-on nosedive, and now they return for the first time in 3 years with Mechanical Bull, an album that marks a bit of a return to their original driving rock ‘n’ roll sound, but with middling songs and a posture as if the band is going through the motions.
The band leads the album off with “Supersoaker”, their heavily promoted lead single, which completely recycles the sound people grew to love on Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, for a likable enough single with its ringing melody and retro-fitted rhythm section. Unfortunately for the listener, that’s probably as good as it gets, with the band opting for either super straightforward driving rock songs or mid-tempo country-tinged rockers, with very little variation. “Don’t Matter” is probably the other notable track here, taking a note from fellow indie-rockers-who-broke-big the Black Keys who borrowed from ZZ Top on their last album, El Camino, with some swanky, freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll. Here, Caleb Followill shows maybe he wasn’t neutered after all, stepping up with the most attitude he has shown since “McFearless” on Because of the Times.
Other than these two tracks, Mechanical Bull is a real sleep fest with lyrics so stupid and backwards they could have only been written by Caleb Followill.
After the debacle that was Come Around Sundown, there were few expectations for the Kings follow-up, Mechanical Bull. Personally, I was just hoping for a step forward, any step forward. Mechanical Bull is a pleasant surprise in that regard, keeping my attention for the bulk of the songs.
There is still something missing from earlier albums, and I can best identify it as that lean, limited-takes feel the Kings so best exhibited on Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak. Much of the record just needs that little bit of fat trimmed to realize its full potential, and a few songs entirely could be cut to make Mechanical Bull a leaner, ten track record. Country whiner, “On the Chin”, and punchless rockers “Work on Me” and “Coming Back Again” are prime examples of tracks that could have been tightened up a bit or left off altogether.
But with the bad comes a fair amount of engaging tracks to make you remember why The Kings of Leon captured our adoration in the first place. “Last Mile Home”, “Comeback Story”, and “Beautiful War” with its distinctive guitar noodling are all tracks Wes didn’t mention that are nice little nuggets added to the Kings catalog. Beyond those, and I wouldn’t be shocked if I’m ripped on for this, “Family Tree” is one of the most fun songs upon initial listening. It’s simple lyrics coupled with its classic structure delights me to no end.
This is a record that can at least be respected, if not adored. I hope that at least a few select tracks get their due.
It is hard to turn your back on a band you loved so much for so long. That is why I’m not so surprised to see this album even mildly praised by either of my cohorts. But the fact is that Austin and Wes seem to be just grasping at straws to save a broken band. The music this group of young, risk-taking, church-and-family rebelling teenagers used to make was raw, gritty, grungy, aggressive rock music from the south. It was never a revolutionary new sound, but it was raw and real and fun. It has now become nothing more than an over-polished turd. They saw a glimpse of massive fame and fortune, and they went to the extent of picking up Tim McGraw’s old producer to claim it. Music used to burst out of these guys, now it is just forced.
Exit producer Ethan Johns (a few albums ago), enter Angelo Petraglia (also a few albums ago). They gave the man who made their sound and produced other raw acts such as Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne, for a guy that built his career our of one-off singles for people like Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood, and Taylor Swift. This album is certainly very telling of this switch. It plays like a “Pink” era Aerosmith. Another band that went from grit-rock to over-polished, over-produced cheese rock in just a few albums. Songs like “Rock City” and the mind-numbingly simple “Family Tree” that Austin so adores especially highlight this Aerosmith-esque degeneration.
The instrumentation on this album is so basic, it sounds as if they just decided to give up completely and begin re-writing shitty pop songs that we have all heard hundreds of times before. I hear notes of latter Blink 182 (“Wait For Me”), latter Green Day (“Don’t Matter), and Bryan Adams (“Temple”) all over this album. And just so there is no confusion, none of these comparisons (even the Aerosmith one) are meant to be complementary. These are bands at their worst point, when all creativity is lost and they are being produced to make money. That is what the Kings are sounding like now. Really the only song that I can find even slightly redeemable on the entire album is the light and airy “Comeback Story”. Part of me believes that this is just because I hope someday the Kings have comeback story of their own of when they returned to a more pure and honest form of music again. Because as far as I am concerned they haven’t pulled off a truly good song since “Cold Dessert”.
Aggregate Score: 4.5/11
Note: No agreements were made for a Can’t Miss/Can’t Hit selection