Full disclosure: I wear the Kings of Leon on my sleeve. Since 2003 my relationship with their music has been so fulfilling it borders on glutton.
Since then their hard-strummed, rugged southern twang has gradually been replaced with sentiments of arena rock and teenage anthems, laced with some endearingly inaccessible tracks.
And theyre still plain good.
Come Around Sundown is the fifth studio album released by the three brothers and cousin from Tennessee and Oklahoma. Leon is their dad (and uncle), but this album, released Tuesday, is their baby.
Its easy to get mad at a band for making it big and the Kings have made it huge. But even if you cling to their early albums Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak as I do, Sundown means progress for the Kings as musicians, at leat to them. Most rock stars dont get into the business to regress musically, even if worldwide popularity sheds some original fans from their base.
That said, Sundown doesnt loosen my grip on those first two albums, or even their third record, Because of the Times. Still, its more creative than Only By the Night, their fourth and brand-name-earning release.
Like their last release, the Kings make mellow make-out music, not fistfight music love, not war. Its loose, catchy, wailing, to generalize.
Pony Up eventually grabs you as a standout, upbeat track after a tumbleweed-on-the-beach-inspired first half of the disc. The bass line has verve, and then it gets percussive, followed by high-pitched melodic riffs introducing Caleb Followills high-pitched, scratchy voice. Its a well-planned amalgamation of singular pieces, enhanced with brawling lyrics:
The crush of bottles breaking and the swinging chandelier/ in a round of bullets the bloodhounds know / I saw the midnight come and I watched her go / well if you take my hand I’m gonna get you outta here.
Kings of Leon are often compared to The Strokes, a band they admittedly admire. The single Radioactive emits a tint of the Strokes sound but adds a gospel element, for which the Kings, kin of a preacher man, are known.
The most interesting track is Mary, a complete departure from anything the Kings have done in the past, and it doesnt reappear, either. Its a contemporary take on Doo Wop, maybe? Motown? This may be a cop-out, but words cant really paint this sound or any sound for that matter. Think Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons meets Temptations meets, well, Kings of Leon. Comically, the Kings most awesome, errant guitar solo of the album bridges this one together.
The Kings get a little corny lyrically and musically as usual in songs like Pyro where Followill pouts, I will never be your cornerstone.
Or on Birthday: Were gonna come together/ were gonna celebrate / we gonna get around / like its your birthday.
The second-to-last track on the album pretty much sums it up. Mi Amigo is another double take. Its happy, quirky, and for some good reason makes me think of Randy Newman. Am I the only one?
Come Around Sundown is a complete album. You can press play and pretty much listen from front to back, but not without a few quizzical glances around the room, like a confused dog cocking its head. Thats mostly a good thing. Mostly.