Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kings of Leon: Come Around Sundown - A Review

Kings of Leon are not just a good band. They're a hot band. The latter matters so much more than the former. Let's be truly honest for a minute here. This is rock 'n roll, after all. The way I look at it, you either like their music (and other like music) or you don't. There are rock 'n roll-oriented people out there. And other kinds of people. Naturally, and not in the spirit of preclusion of course, this targets the former more the latter. I've often talked about tastes revealing much more about us than what we happen to like. The aesthetics of rock 'n roll is almost as important as the content of rock 'n roll. Kings of Leon are one of those very, very few bands that espouse both.
The thing is, you either react to Caleb Followill's voice, or you don't. He has a kind of vocal quality that not only begs for attention, it begs for actual sentiment. Whether I'm listening to this record when behind the wheel, running, on the bike, or while talking about something seemingly inconsequential to someone, it is the kind of voice that says: 'I matter. Heed.'
Followill's voice takes me back to that hot summer day when I sat on my stoop, reading the Rolling Stone feature article on this new, awesome band from the South comprised of brothers and a paternal cousin. I remember reading the Stone feature while listening to "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" on my iPod. It was a good summer evening. It was too good. It forced me to do that which only music tends to do to me: It forced me to be introspective and feel okay about it. That's the power of certain kinds of music. It serves as a master key that opens every lock of one's inner worlds and secrets.
I remember sending texts to my musician pal and asking him if he could bear the intensity of tracks like "Use Somebody." He said he barely could. As could I. And that, folks, makes a good track.
The new album Come Around Sundown is important to Kings of Leon because they apparently had the freedom to be as creative as they could have been. The label was not going to restrict them horribly and they could be what they could be best: their own family-informed, alcohol-induced, and music-worshiped selves with all the drama that the formula entails.

I was talking to a new friend of mine the other day and he noted that he found it funny that they had a fiddle on the "Back Down South" track. I think I smiled when I heard that. I smiled because I also remembered all of my experiences in the American South, what it's like to witness people say 'y'all' as often as young people say 'like' in Orange County, or what it means to have b-b-q and lemonade on a hot Memphis day. Again, that's what actual rock 'n roll does: it transports you to your own past, immediate and/or truly past, and it forces you to face it and the stories it has spawned.

The new album feels like a family reunion in the deep South. There's plenty of food and games in the sun. But there's also plenty of drama. Then comes the track "Pony Up." Caleb's vocals get so crisp, I wondered if he had a vocal coach in the studio the day the record was cut as they sound too impeccable. The track's a good segue to "The End" (even though "The End" is the first track of the record). The track, quite apropos named, makes me think of a Killers-meets-The-Bravery-type-of-fusion. It's odd but it works. "The End" is an ideal break-up song that other couples are bound to use as their 'love' song. The dichotomy itself is what's poetic. It's both happy and sad. Much like the Kings of Leon themselves.
See them live one of these days and you'll know what I mean. I can't verbally explain what this means. They epitomize a kind of sadness a-la-Don-Draper that you have to 'get' experientially. If you don't get that kind of sadness then you haven't had a chance to 'get' poetic sadness yet. Which is fine. It's not meant for everyone, after all. Much like marathons. There are other things in life to get.

And then there's "Mary." My heavens, "Mary!" What a great track! It's so great, I wish I had stuck with my guitar lessons just so that I could play this badly on my own, in my basement, when everyone else is asleep late at night.

In sum, the new alum is good. No, wait, it's better than that. It's friggin' awesome. However, it's not "Sex on Fire." Which says one fundamentally true thing about expectations: they are never matched. Of course, no track on the album is as harrowing as "Sex on Fire" or "Use Somebody," for that matter. The album as a whole, however, is good, solid, inspiring. Of course it's not "Sex on Fire" but then again, maybe it's not supposed to be. Most things are not supposed to be that dangerous, no? Music doesn't have to be extreme to be great. Even rock n' roll. Or especially rock 'n roll. If you don't own a copy of Come Around Sundown, you need to rectify it and get one now. It's better than most albums you have bought so far in 2010.
And, if you have not seen these guys perform live yet, do so. This is quite a family with quite a gene pool. And everyone needs to see Caleb sing live!

And here's the guys discussing the new record here:

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JJ said...

I cannot get over Caleb's voice... He was born to be a rock singer! When he sings 'this could be the end....' I just about pass out. Great record!

Unknown said...

These guys do epitomize what it means to be hot and relevant in the business today! Thx for the review. Will get the record for sure. Have been listening to their previous album all summer....

Unknown said...

Have you seen them perform live this year yet? Will you out West?

Dana said...

You know, they are so quintessentially Americana with all of their Christianity, preacher-y, and Elivis-like references, that you can't help but be into then in a big, big way! When Caleb sings "I ain't got a home" you can't help but want to adopt him! :) What a great track that it. Awesome guitar work. And the piano at the end? Perfection!

Scott said...

I love these guys. Amid so many sub-par records out there, these guys are most welcome. They and Muse. Thanks for this. I'll get to checking them out this week.
How's the West?
Snowboarding in season yet? Have many boards do you have? :)

scott said...

They do have a bit of "Elvis" in them, it's true. I kept thinking who they reminded me of and, yup, Elvis. Plus, they're from Memphis so it makes sense....

Unknown said...