Kings of Leon have been grinding through the commercial world ever since their 2008 release Only by the Night. It seems they have struggled to find their rhythm, that old magic that saw them as the ‘southern-Strokes’. They haven’t truly re-connected with their original audience due to the confusion on where they stand in the music world, the bands seventh and latest release Walls is no different.
Opening track and first single Waste a Moment kicks in with the now trademark chord progression – similar to Supersoaker – that the band see as a safe haven alongside the easy on the ear choruses like Use Somebody or Radioactive that reeks of the stadium inspired-rock they have been dancing with. The album does have it’s moments, and Around the World is a catchy track that pieces together frontman Caleb Followill’s 2011 meltdown and consequent rehab that was nearly the end for the band. “That woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter? She likes my music. That’s fucking not cool.” These were the words of Caleb to NME just after the release of the immensely popular Sex On Fire that slingshotted them into the big time, so Around the World works being an autobiography of the frontman’s potentially explosive, career threatening problems.
Ever since Come Around Sundown the image of listening to the band is somewhere in Southern America on a back of a worn pick up sipping on a six pack while watching the sun gently nestle below the horizon, a far cry from the garage-inspired southern rock from debut record Youth & Young Manhood. Back Down South is a good example of this imagery, but on WALLS the tracks that perfect this tone are Conversation Piece and Reverend. Both sail gracefully throughout the duration of the track, and Caleb’s raspy, breaking vocals give the songs that silky rust which perfectly captures the moonshining style of vintage Kings of Leon.
Muchacho opens with a Napoleon Dynamite-esque drum machine that sounds straight out of a corner shop or elevator. Listening further comes the cowboy style whistling that echos the frontier, the track comes together as a nice tribute to a late friend, with Caleb softly singing, “He was my favourite friend of all”. It would seem every Kings of Leon record must have some sort of powering ballad that motivates or deflates anybody who presses play, Use Somebody and True Love Way perfectly encapsulate this standard. The title track is the records swan song, illustrating the expanding anthology of arrangements the band have. The tracks muted and caged drums give more emotional emphasis on Caleb’s desperate and remorseful voice as he sings “Waste of space in a faceless crowd/When the walls come down”. The song could be a another memoir of the events in 2011, but they still stick with the somewhat tedious achy-breaky heart tactics from previous records.
WALLS has been produced by Markus Dravs who has worked with Coldplay (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, Mylo Xyloto), Arcade Fire (The Suburbs) and Mumford & Sons (Sigh No More). Further consolidating their now arena rock status, it’s no wonder they chose Dravs who won a Grammy with Arcade Fire. Caleb told NME: “He just said things nobody had ever said to us. Like, “I don’t like that song, that’s not good, we can move on from that. Ok, now play it like the Sex Pistols.’ And then you’ve turned a slow song into a fast one.” The fact Kings of Leon are still searching for a producer that they can consistently work it with, it seems the quartet of Followill’s remain confused on where they stand in terms of the music.
The record is a solid album, but once again it is disjointed and confusing. Kings of Leon want to find that special formula that they need to recapture the former days of tight jean, boot wearing fun. It’s been a chugging and stagnating journey since Only by the Night, the band look like they don’t know what side to be on, the cult side (Youth & Young Manhood, Aha Shake Heartbreak), or the mainstream. You can’t blame them for wanting to be superstars because heck, who wouldn’t want to be rich and famous. They have played it safe, just like the past two records. You could now argue that they are leaning towards the mainstream side but it’s not all bad, it just means the original die-hard fans will have to wait, and they will wait until a maturing Kings of Leon revert back to former glory.
Words by Tom Baxter