On particular nights, helped with steady gushes of bourbon,
The Kings of Leon
sound ominously like a bunch of Confederate soldiers tired of General Lee’s rants but quivering with passion about something Southern that we can’t quite put our fingers on. This was hauntingly evident in this Tennessee band’s offering,
Because of the Times
Numbers like Knocked up, Charmer and True Love Way with its insect-rubbing guitars, jagged-voiced lamentations and boy-next-door flipknife menace were startling in their — and this isn't a word used much in what goes for ‘rock’n’roll journalism’ - purity.
On Call from that staggering 2007 album was a Billie Holliday moment in Southern rock. So where does the Followill Brothers’ latest album, Only by the Night take us? Caleb Followill’s vocal style remains distinctive as ever, but the Civil War seems to be over with the band moving into a more expansive, inclusive space. Revelry, with its gentle, swooning sound, for instance, is a ballad that could be turned into a mobile phone ad under the watchful ear of a ad scout.
But the album starts on the right foot all right. The pulsating, Tom Morello-ish guitars announces Closer, a wolf howl from the serrated Caleb. Crawl, pedals buzzing, high-hat hitting, we enter classic rock updated terrain. Sex on Fire gyrates and has the Kings entering the dance floor with Caleb tending towards Steve Windwoodness?
But it’s Use Somebody that sees the Kings leaving their bodies completely and having an out-of-the-Leons experience. Drawl apart, this could have been a song that Bono could have tries his larynx at (the oh-oh-ohhh, chorus is tradema-rk Cold Play, I’m afraid). Manhattan is a shrugging song that sees the chic-hickness of the Followill’s turned into a loungey entity.
“We gonna sip the wine/and pass the cup,” I know that could be good Christian imagery and there could be a dose of irony involved here, but junking Southern Comfort for Merlot? (The Shadows-style ‘Hawaiian’ in the song heightens my worries.) 17 has bells ringing, and tricky chords.
But by this time, I’m dying to get some of the hard stuff. And it comes, just in the nick of time too — not in the crinkly (piano-included) tune of Notion, but in the cow bell’n’bassline of I Want You. The legs at last start nobbling the floor in this staccatoed rumble-song.
The slackness with style is back and we don’t have to look at each other any more to whether the songs are working or not. This reggae-meets-Neil Young captures me like a bullet in my knee-cap. I would still run Because of the Times in court to prove that the Kings of Leon are guilty as charged of playing music that’s terribly set apart from these smooth-shaved times and that the boys have a shaggy, happy menace about them. In Only By The Night, they’re playing on request to possible Caprioska drinkers.