Kings of Leon | Because of the Times (RCA)

cd_kingsKings of Leon still sound like no one else, mostly due to Caleb's literally instrumental vocals, but this is their first effort to see such decided growth.





Bigger than ever, but badass as always, Kings of Leon have passed their stride with a mix of cleaner boots and vamped-up ambitions on their newest release, Because of the Times. Building on the strength and potency of their first two albums—both gritty, bluesy, Southern rock revivalisms—the brothers and cousin Followill are now taking their sweaty, stompin' grooves to new expanses. Although lead singer, Caleb, still sounds like he eats glass for breakfast and the guitars are forever strung with tumbleweed and tempered in Jack, the rock has made a turn toward indie and reverb. Yet, the band's beloved soulful aggression remains.

Devotees need to take heed, but there's no cause for concern about a changed band. Kings of Leon are still not far removed from the UPC ministers' conferences that the band used to attend, which this album references in its title (For those unfamiliar with the band‘s history, Kings of Leon are named after their father, a traveling Pentecostal preacher named Leon who used to take his boys along on his tours through the South.) The subject matter of Because of the Times is still focused on manhood, sexuality, and indiscretions, and it's still attacked with cocky swagger. However, the brief constructs of both Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak are tabled in favor of songs that take longer to develop, and thus work toward a greater payoff. For the first time, Caleb toys with vocal effects (see the filtered, bullhorn sound of the album's happy midpoint, "My Party) and lead guitarist Matthew takes a page from The Edge to form more anthemic riffs and leads. Because of the Times even has a song that clocks in at over seven minutes with the rolling opener "Knocked Up," in which drummer Nathan's "Radar Love" beat forms a dusty road for Caleb to drive his Coupe De Ville on, defying the masses with his pregnant lady. Kings of Leon still sound like no one else, mostly due to Caleb's literally instrumental vocals, but this is their first effort to see such decided growth.

Following the epic first track is "Charmer," a scratchy, post-punk thumper that features a nails-on-the-chalkboard scream at the end of each line, bordering on painful before giving way to bassist Jared's bridge, one that draws definitively from the Pixies. Next is lead single "On Call," a stadium rocker built on the modernization of the Followill's church-choir roots. The middle third of Because of the Times is the true meat and potatoes of the album, though. With "Black Thumbnail," the band's signature filthy rhythm guitar is met by its owner, as Caleb proves once again that he can howl like no other, singing that his girl "Don't need no slow man." "My Party" provides tremendously upbeat swagger, with Jared's heavily droning bass clashing against danceable, loose guitars that'll undoubtedly shake your hips when they collide with the jungle-drumming downbeat. "True Love Way" and "Ragoo" see Kings of Leon sounding more indie than ever, but they pull it off well with the satisfying time change on the back end of the former and the tricky-island riff of the latter. "Fans" provides the album's worst lyrics, but perhaps its most fun melody. The album slows toward the end, yet the harmonized "woos" on "Trunk" and the pretty, aching solos on "Arizona" show that this is a band that can succeed out of its safety zone.

Because of the Times is a necessary album in the developing path of one of America's better finds in recent memory. While there are occasional missteps, the band's natural talent, penchant for cribbing only the best of their predecessors, and youthful vibrancy more than makes up for these moments. What's more is that when Kings of Leon hit the right notes, no band today can match the inspiration of raw beauty, honesty, and coolness that their sound provides. The present is surely good times for the Tennesseans, and ambitious steps like these promise even better times to come. A | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Kaiser Chiefs, My Morning Jacket, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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