Review Summary: The Followills are back with another sturdy set of songs-- not the stuff of legend, but solid enough to keep them going for now.
Show of hands: Who's f*cking sick of Kings of Leon? It seems like the primary inclination of audiophiles across cyberspace is toward disdain for the Followill clan in light of the ubiquity of Only by the Night
's singles. Given my propensity to avoid commercial radio, I've been mercifully spared the burn-out effect, so my only gripe with the Kings' recent output is the noticeable absence of the type of freewheeling energy of their early records, when they would have seemed as likely to venture into U2-ish grandiosity as Jay Reatard. Alas, the modest taste of success from Because of the Times
seemed to push them further in the direction of populist anthems, and for better or worse, Come Around Sundown
puts to rest any hopes that they'll ever write anything like "Molly's Chambers" again.
Of course, this is hardly any reason to look upon the band with anything close to contempt; after all, devotees of Youth and Young Manhood
and Aha Shake Heartbreak
can still spin them to their hearts' content. It's always nice to hear a band stepping out from behind the shadows of their catalog material, even if the direction does lean toward mass appeal. Or perhaps more than just lean. Sundown
finds Kings of Leon growing into and fully embracing the shtick they presented with Only by the Night
; if this were a poker game, they'd be all-in. Perhaps that's a bad analogy, because it implies one of two outcomes-- raking in a huge pot or going belly-up-- neither of which is really the case. Come Around Sundown
definitely offers a lot to like but fails to be the show-stopper a big-time band needs to make to really cement their status. Let's call it a split pot.
The album certainly makes for a comfortable listen, with nothing even remotely challenging popping up over the course of its thirteen tracks, none of which cross the five-minute threshold. Obviously this was the idea, but the Kings pull it off very naturally. Caleb Followill has the strong pipes and distinctive timbre to own the huge choruses he's delivering now, and despite a few fleeting moments that sound apropos for a band once dubbed "The Southern Strokes" (the jagged guitar stabs of "Pony Up", for example), his bandmates pull off the likable heartland-meets-indie sound quite well. There's enough jangle, clang and distortion in songs like "Mary", "The Immortals" and "No Money" that you could say they're the type of songs The Walkmen or Arcade Fire would make if they were jockeying for chart positions. "Mi Amigo" and the appropriately titled "Back Down South" have a gentle hint of twang (but not too much, of course!) that provides an endearing charm.
stumbles at times, it's when Followill offers up lines like, "Everything I cherish is slowly dying or is gone" on "Pyro", somewhat morose territory for a band that seems to have it all right now. On the flip-side of that coin, the inspirational sap of "The Immortals" ("The open road, the path to greatness, it's at your fingers") is borderline hokey but will probably appeal well to mainstream audiences. Surprisingly, though it all goes down nice-and-easy, the album seems to lack particular songs with strong single appeal; though "Radioactive" is catchy in its own way, there's nothing that screams "obvious smash." Even a song like "Birthday", which might have the snappiest hook on the record, doesn't seem poised for the airwaves. So as a hit vehicle, the album's potential for success seems suspect (an assertion that's almost sure to go up in flames now that I've written it down). Luckily, singles don't an album make, and Come Around Sundown
is consistently alluring, albeit a bit safe. It's not the album that will solidify Kings of Leon's legend in rock history, but more than respectable for what it is-- a worthy addition to the canon of a constantly evolving band that will hopefully keep us guessing well into the future.