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What I’m listening to this week: Kings of Leon

June 18, 2009

Only By The Night – 2008

So, a couple of months ago, I’m reading the issue of Rolling Stone with the Kings of Leon on the cover.  At this point, I’d already listened to Only By The Night and formed an opinion on it.  It was good, with two or three really good songs.  It seemed pretty obvious that the band recorded the album intent on a shot at achieving household-name status in their home country; it’s got big hooks, impassioned vocals…a fully realized radio-friendly modern rock album.  Plus, I’d seen the band perform “Sex on Fire” on pretty much every television show and heard the song practically every place where it’s possible to even hear a song.  So imagine my surprise when, while reading the interview, I discover that the tortured souls that are Kings of Leon basically diss every fan they gained from the two very successful singles from Only By The Night.  And Caleb Followill essentially saying that he hates looking out into the crowd and seeing a “certain type” of fan, one that he knows wasn’t in to their music before the success of “Sex on Fire” and sort of wishing he’d never written it so that those people wouldn’t be at their gigs.

While I’m more than sure that happens to every band at some point, the amount of time and energy that the article devoted to discussing that particular subject made me believe that Kings of Leon honestly has a problem with a pretty large percentage of their fan base and that ticks me off.  If they only wanted to see stringy haired, rip-roaring drunk dudes at their shows, then they probably shouldn’t have recorded this type of album at all.  Or toured with U2.  Or shaved their beards and trimmed their hair.  Or done the late show television appearances where they played only their two most successful songs.  Or a whole host of other things that it’s pretty apparent would make you more widely known and available to a broader range of listeners.

It’s with all of that in mind that I decided to listen to Only By The Night again this week; first and foremost to give it a fair shake as an album only, but also because, hey, maybe Caleb was just having a bad day when he gave that interview <insert eye roll here>.

The good: obviously “Sex on Fire”, a song that exists for the wide-reaching and admittedly addictive chorus.  Also, the other single, “Use Somebody”, an aching and sentimental, thoroughly modern rock track.  Caleb’s voice shines convincingly on the album in most places.  It’s completely unrestrained and always sounds like he’s on the edge of losing control – like a dog about to come unleashed – particularly on the rock lifestyle celebrating “Manhattan”, which also features a cool bass riff.  “Notion” is a southern rock style anthem, with some majorly Brit-pop influenced piano, that’s mostly about the catchy refrain, but fun nonetheless.  “Be Somebody” is another track with a rousing chorus that’s surprisingly self-conscious, matched by frantic, insecure verses.

The not-so-good: the overwrought intro “Closer”, the somewhat self-indulgent “Revelry” (with very un-southern rock like “whoa-ohs” in the background).  “17” is a bit creepy and a lot tuneless.  Also not-so-good…the fact that some of the tracks aren’t memorable enough to mention despite the fact that I’ve listened to the album around ten times now.

Overall, as I said at the start, this is a good album.  The band set out a goal, accomplished it, grew in the process, and have plenty of growing room left.  They’re talented musicians with a knack for mashing up grungy garage rock with anthemic pop sensibilities.  Did Only By The Night match up to the killer buzz?  No, not by my estimation.  My hope is that the band will learn to embrace the success to which they owe their comfortable lifestyles and ability to continue creating music, and appreciate the fans, new and old alike, that make that happen.

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