Album review: Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Album Reviews

Just five albums into their recording career, Kings of Leon is a completely different band than it was seven years ago. With the 2003 release of their debut album Youth and Young Manhood, the Kings emerged as the latest torch-bearers for Southern garage rock. They sounded like a combination of the Strokes and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with often unintelligible vocals and a straight-ahead rock sound. They honed that sound on the 2004 follow-up Aha Shake Heartbreak and reached new heights on their best album to date, 2007’s Because of the Times, which showed them experimenting with new sounds while maintaining their heavy-rock sound (Black Thumbnail, McFearless, Charmer and Camaro are tremendous ass-kicking rock tunes).
While achieving great success in England, the band basically maintained a small but devoted following in the United States. That, of course, was until 2008’s blockbuster on both sides of the Atlantic Only by the Night made them international superstars.
Buoyed by U2-esque anthems like Use Somebody and Sex on Fire, Kings of Leon sounded little like the rough and tumble rockers of their first two releases. Many longtime fans used the dreaded word “sellout” when describing the more polished sound. I’m actually a fan of both versions of the band, but I actually prefer the Kings’ last three albums over their first two, simply because the songs are more developed and catchier as a whole.
Their latest release,Come Around Sundown, continues Kings of Leon’s progression into a huge arena rock band. The first single “Radioactive” is the type of tune U2 used to turn out with ease but hasn’t mustered in at least a decade. Big guitars reminiscent of the Edge coupled with a massive singalong chorus give it a bit of a gospel feel, and it’s one of the best tunes on the album. There are a few stylistic departures, including the doo-wop flourishes on “Mary” and the down-home country charm of “Back Down South.” The Followill clan (brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared with cousin Matthew) keep maturing as a band, with the rhythm section of Jared on bass and Nathan on drums giving many songs a needed kick in the arse. Caleb has always been a dynamic frontman, adding an emotional edge and theatrics to tunes like “Pickup Truck,” “The End,” and “No Money.” The one thing that Come Around Sundown and its predecessor don’t really do is rock, and each album could have used a few stompers like Black Thumbnail to add more variety. But U2 (who they seem to aspire to be) often didn’t rock hard but wrote majestic anthems that have stood the test of time. Kings of Leon aren’t quite there yet. Lyrically, Caleb is no Bono, but they keep getting better as a band and hopefully will come up with another album as good as their third sometime soon.

Sod rating: *** 1/2

Kings of Leon discography
Youth and Young Manhood (2003) ***
Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004) ***
Because of the Times (2007) **** 1/2
Only by the Night (2008) *** 1/2

Ratings system
* 1962, 1993 Mets
** 1991, 2010 Mets
*** 1973, 2006 Mets
**** 1999, 1988 Mets
***** 1969, 1986


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