The Kings of Leon's fourth studio release comes out next week on September 23, but (luckily) I have come across a copy of it already...actually about a week ago, and have been debating how to approach and handle Only By the Night. You can preview the album here for now.
After two and a half listens straight through last weekend, I was left confused about my feelings (it usually takes a couple of handfuls of listens and a few weeks to get into a new KoL album). After a few more listenings this week in the office and in the car (not the best environments when wanting to give a critical ear), I am still left confused about the Kings' latest. In what seems to be the Kings fashion on the last album and a half, bordering on really the last two and half albums, dating back to Aha Shake Heartbreak, the Kings have all but dropped their dirty garage boogie of the Holy Roller Novocaine EP and Youth and Young Manhood album by distancing themselves as far as they possibly can with their newer found and slicker atmospheric jams and spacey tunes. May be it's the big record company pushing them in this direction; or possibly the Kings pushing back out from the garage corner they were put in to begin with. I don't know.
Either way, here is where they are now. Or rather way out in the galaxy of new glam and fashion rock, minus the electronic beats and effects. Oh wait. Nevermind. Track 6 "Revelry" comes in with what sounds to me like a drum machine. I forgot about that. I also forgot that it's also my favorite track on the 11-song album that is just shy of 43 minutes. I don't know why, because I am pretty much against all drum machines and beat boxes, unless the good Doctor is on it. The album opens with some weird spooky "woo woo woo woo woo" effects before the music even starts. I should have known what I was in for right then, eight seconds into the whole album.
Caleb's vocal lines and melodies have never been boring, and have always erred this side of pretty. After nearly three albums of the same spacey, U2-esque ringing chords and riffs, I was hoping for more of the straight forward three or four chord power chord songs that got my attention five, almost six years ago with the EP and Y&YMH. "Notion", "Use Somebody" and the first single "Sex on Fire" all liken to this structure of the U2 chords: see here and here if you don't know what I'm talking about. "17" is just another rehashing Aha Shake's "Milk" and "Soft" and Because of the Times's "True Love Way" in what seems to be Kings' recurring obsession with young, young ladies.
Three things with the KoL that are bothering me as they stand today:
- The songs are starting to run together and sound too much alike with the same melody and falsetto vocals. The guitar harmonics and U2-ism has become overwhelming and simply overplayed. The bass has retreated into hiccups it sounds like, and for god's sake, let Nathan actually play the drums- he can, I promise. I've seen it, I've heard it and I've felt it. See here.
- What's with the 'fashionista' outfits? Yes, y'all are big in Europe, so I can understand your wardrobe lending itself to more of their style of dress, but c'mon on now. You're not that big here (you could be, if y'all played that ol' rock n roll again one day). Y'all are from Nashville, and even the little emo-mall kids are out growing the tight pants, the cutesy sweaters and the whining on their records these days. And your cool-guy haircuts have got to go. Where's the mustaches and the pageboy haircuts that I remember so well and grew to love so dearly? I was even jealous of your mustache skills and abilities.
- Why no more rocking out? In the beginning, that's all there was: it was an hour of soaken wet, sweaty t-shirts, spilled beer and bourbon and trying to catch your breath between songs and at the end. In the middle years, there was a reasonable combination of sweat and rock mixed with lighters and swaying. Now most of the songs on the album are swayers. I feel like I'm at a love or church rally with the way they ring out and lend themselves to putting your arm around the person next to you and swaying the night away. There's not a true rocker on this album; not nary a one.
In the second track "Crawl", Caleb warns with his signature howl "You better learn to crawl before I walk away." Yep, that about sums it up. The Kings need to learn to crawl again and go back to the basics before I/we all walk away.
And that's what it all really comes down to, is that there's really just not enough cock 'n balls for me anymore. And I think that goes for alot of us, as I was left wanting more or something that simply is not there this time.
Sidenote: there are two album covers up top. One is for the UK release, the other is for us. Can you guess which one is which?
answer: the cool-looking eagle and face one incidentally is for the fans in the Old Country, where the Kings are still Kings of something, as opposed to here. The artsy one is for us, and it look like the Aha Shake cover, which isn't helping their image in the US with all their artsy, Rorschach images. "Leon" must be some planet waaaaaayyyyyy out in the far reaches of the galaxy that the KoL are trying to conquer with their stratospheric anthems, riffs and melodies, because their sound is getting further and further away from here and from where it used to be.