Kings of Leon
Come Around Sundown
By now, the Kings of Leon sound is pretty unmistakable, all those raw, sand-blasted vocals, thumping drums and riffy guitar chords. It's a combination that leaves you thinking you should be cruising through the Great Basin Desert at sunset in an open-topped Chevvy, just the husky drawl of Caleb Followill for company. It's also a sound that we became thoroughly accustomed to on Only by the Night, their previous, fourth studio album which notably spawned Sex on Fire and Use Somebody. Both are now party anthems of the sort dribbled out towards the end of the night, as your arms are draped over someone on either side and you're swaying collectively. Remember their appearance at Yas Arena during last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend? Exactly.
Released in 2008, that album was their most successful to date, selling more than six million copies worldwide and notching up various mantelpiece trophies for the three Followill brothers - Caleb, Nathan and Jared, and their cousin, Matthew.
So what's changed with Come Around Sundown? Well, not a whole lot. From the very beginning of this album, we are greeted with the same mood and noise as that which came before. But then there's that old "if it ain't broke" adage. Basically, if you're into the boys then this is just the ticket for you. Not so if you're the sort who despairs that a stonking 15 Kings tunes made it into a recent compendium of the best 1,000 tracks of all time.
Proceedings kick off in a topsy-turvy fashion, with a gloomy track entitled The End. An implied nervousness at the album's reception? A dabble with post-modernism? Who knows. "This could be the end," Caleb mumbles, "Cos I ain't got a home." No wonder, you may think, given the general level of cheeriness we've started with.
The pace picks up with Radioactive, which was released as the album's lead single last month for good reason. It features ace guitar hammerings from both Nathan and Jared and an uplifting chorus that hints at the quartet's gospel background.
Prepare yourself for something of an up-and-down listen, because the emotions here are as constant as a spotty teenager's, but in general this album is uncomplicated and there are several noteworthy highs.
Most obviously, Back Down South, a Nashville-infused track and one of the more gentle, most interesting among the 13 included here, featuring sliding fiddle chords as a backdrop and the odd shake of a tambourine. Doubtless, this will have them clapping along in those packed arenas and whooping as if they're at a barn dance. Mary is an upbeat, radio-friendly number, with a cracking guitar solo from Matthew, and Caleb at his most jaunty, pledging his love to the unidentified subject. And The Face warrants a mention too. It settles the mood back down at sombre but it's packed with heartfelt nods to their home state. "If you give up New York, I'll give you Tennessee, the only place to be," Caleb yearns.
Hold up, though, there's a glaring incongruity with the whole album, and that is the Kings of Leon self-admitted disdain for fame and all things mainstream. After all, this is the group that turned down the recent offer of a slot on the hit show Glee. It's the same foursome that recently poured disdain on their biggest-selling single (Sex on Fire). It's the band that sniffs at selling out, as they told the NME in August.
But if popularity is so offensive to them, then why make an album that sounds almost exactly like that which projected them into the big-time to begin with? Given that mega-bucks and sold-out stadiums are clearly anathema to the Followill clan, the logical thing to have done would be to retreat, have a quick think about their musical direction and change course.
Come Around Sundown has done nothing of the sort, which is smashing stuff for their fans and their management, but apparently bad news for the boys themselves. What a drag; they're just going to have to carry on being so darn popular.
For some artists, their fifth album has been their best…
David Bowie The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust… (1972) His fourth (Hunky Dory) and sixth (Aladdin Sane) weren’t bad either, but the album that accompanied Bowie’s incarnation as Ziggy Stardust was a career-defining moment and an exciting milestone in rock history, going beyond the conceits of the concept album to become an undisputed classic.
New Order Technique (1989) Their passion for electronic experimentation had long been evident, and in 1988 New Order headed for Ibiza, where, immersed in the burgeoning house scene, they recorded the best album of their career – a sublime, intelligent synthesis of dance music and post-punk introspection that heralded the sound of the decade ahead.
PJ Harvey Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) A dedication to New York and the life-affirming qualities of love, Harvey’s fifth studio album took everyone by surprise. Though the raw, lo-fi edginess was still present, in too came sumptuous, stylish production and an unashamed embrace of huge hooks and layered harmonies. The results topped almost every end of year poll.