Kings of Leon | Come Around Sundown (RCA)

Kings of Leon are back with a new album. Sorry, let me start again. The four-time Grammy winning, multi-platinum-selling Kings of Leon are back with a new album. Ok, that’s better. 

The new record, Come Around Sundown, is the band’s fifth studio album. News of their new release is sure to raise criticism everywhere, as Kings of Leon are the new band that people love to hate. They are corporate sellouts, they lost touch with their roots, they just aren’t that good. Whatever the criticism might be, much of it seems fueled by indie-obsessed critics who revolt against anything as soon as it garners a whiff of mainstream success.
Look, the raw, gritty sound of their early records is gone. This we know. If you are still holding out hope that they will return to southern garage rock, this album will surely disappoint you. Their records will no longer satisfy cravings for more of the rough, under-produced sound that made so many people like this band to begin with.
On the other hand, fans of 2008’s Only By the Night will feel right at home with this new one. The production values are very similar and both albums have that polished, big studio sound. If you are willing to listen without expectations, you will hear a lot of catchy guitar licks and an abundance of sleek bass lines, all of which form the foundation of solid songwriting beneath the studio chicanery that makes Come Around Sundown sound so huge.
“The End” kicks things off with a Pink Floyd-esque lead guitar and the signature vocal style as front man Caleb Followill sings the refrain, “This could be the end.” The energetic “Radioactive,” held together by bassist Jared Followill, is dripping with Southern flavor with the gospel-inspired chorus (“just drink the water…”). Kings of Leon are clearly comfortable in the studio, as we can hear in the layered, delay-driven guitars and harmonized vocals on “Pyro.” The nostalgic “Mary” takes us back to the doo-wop of the 1950s but with the modern infusion of the distortion pedal and an all-out guitar solo by lead guitarist Matthew Followill that would make Chuck Berry proud. Things begin to drag a bit with “The Face” and “The Immortals,” both of which have huge, epic choruses that sound a bit contrived.
“Come on out and dance, if you get the chance,” sings Followill on the boot-kickin’ Western-style tune, “Back Down South.” “Beach Side” takes us back to the ‘80s with reverb-heavy drums and retro guitar sound, while “No Money” cranks up the tempo, the distortion and the angst (“And all this pissing around/cut loose in this fucking town/I ain’t coming back/I got my ticket on to the next one”).
There seems to be a lot of genre hopping on this album, which can make it feel a bit scattered and unfocused. “Pony Up” further aggravates that confusion with its quirky guitar reminiscent of a Johnny Marr riff. “Birthday” has the familiar melodic sound of earlier Kings of Leon efforts, but infuses a bit of new wave into its underlying keyboard melody. Images of a hot summer night in Mexico come to mind with the addition of the horn section on “Mi Amigo”. The album closer, “Pickup Truck,” is full of atmosphere with the textured e-bow intro and layers of guitar that build continuously.
Come Around Sundown is a bit erratic and lacks consistently focus, but it contains a wealth of interesting musical ideas and catchy melodies. Not all of the ideas on this album are executed successfully, but the ambition is there—Kings of Leon did anything but play it safe. Those who knock the band for changing make a fair, undeniable point. But the bottom line is that this is an immensely talented group of musicians who have great chemistry together. B | Christopher Sewell

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