Only By The Night

Back when they first appeared in 2003, Kings of Leon were dismissed as a “Southern-fried Strokes”, and regarded as the thin end of the “new rock revolution” wedge. Five years down the line and the world is a very different place. The Vines, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Datsuns (all of whom were in the NME’s top 10 albums of 2002 list) have faded into near obscurity, whilst The Strokes seem to be content to do nothing, apart from letting their guitarist release increasingly awful solo albums.

For the Kings of Leon, though, the past seven years have been an entirely different proposition. Their first album, Youth And Young Manhood, is a vastly underrated collection of bluesy garage rock gems. However, it was their second effort, Aha Shake Heartbreak, which finally validated them, and silenced the accusations of merely being a coat-tail riding Creedence Clearwater Revival covers band. Amidst solid gold pop gems like ‘The Bucket’ and ‘King Of The Rodeo’ were hints that the band could develop even further: standout track ‘Milk’ mixed garage rock with a pulsing melodic bass line that nodded heavily towards ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Then came the bands coming of age with Because of the Times, in which the music suddenly became huge and epic.

It is in this mould that the new album Only By The Night is cast. The sound is huge, and bathed in large amounts of reverb each song floats on by like the best moments of Because Of The Times. These are songs meant to be played loudly so that every little sonic nuance becomes apparent. The sound is almost post-punk, with huge drum sounds and bass, which delivers most of the melody, behind each song. Cutting through it all is singer Caleb Followill, who on this album has perfected his southern-preacher-howl to the point that even when he is singing absolute nonsense (as he frequently does) it sounds vitally important. The chorus of ‘Sex On Fire’ is the best example, where a throwaway phrase that essentially means nothing sounds like it means everything.

However the ropey lyrics are the biggest failing point of this album. Whilst tracks such as the powerful ‘Crawl’ are a career high, adding a powerful political angle to the band’s existing apocalyptic imagery, others such as ’17’ and ‘I Want You’ seem mired in their own clichés. It may be nit-picking but it doesn’t seem right that a band that have come so far musically should often fall back when it comes to the lyrics.

However the failings of the album do not overly detract from its successes. It is the best Kings Of Leon album yet and an exciting indicator that the band still have a lot more to offer. It is an album that feels cinematic and epic, like the soundtrack to the best western they haven’t made yet. ‘Manhattan’ and final song ‘Cold Desert’ in particular are show-stoppers in the mould of Because Of The Times’ “Knocked Up”. At the same time the immediacy of ‘Crawl’, ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Sex On Fire’ show that they haven’t lost the knack of writing fantastic pop songs. Overall this is a highly enjoyable collection of widescreen rock ‘n’ roll that begs to be played loud and heard live.


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