Review Summary: Are you far away? Are you ashamed? Because you shouldn't.
I would be lying if I'd say I have never lost the wig jumping, kicking and screaming to the beat of "Sex on Fire" in secret parties across the tiny little clubs that blossom from the labyrinthic whirlwind of debauchery that is Tokyo's night life. At the time, I had just arrived in the city in the summer of 2009, leaving a tumultuous break up and economical mayhem behind, which was scored almost accidentally by "Use Somebody", a song I abused unabashed during the whole ordeal, which lasted almost a year. I had no idea who these good-looking chaps from Nashville were, nor I didn’t care. Their anthemic hit was cathartic for me, and for millions of people around the globe. Only God knows if some, or most of those people were also dwelling the same halls of self-imposed guilt as myself, but the fact is that we were given a balm for a shattered heart, and so we swooned along to the feverish charm of Only By The Night
. Comparisons with the mighty Strokes had already grown irrelevant. Kings of Leon were unto something completely different with their fourth release, they were an entirely different band, and they had found rightful pride in claiming so.
The new formula redefined their career and granted them a timeless sound, but it also tamed the untarnished flames of youth that helped them burn their way into the charts faster than the wildfire spreading through the increasingly dry woods of their newfound creativity. Success brought undeserved vitriol, and vitriol planted the seed of doubt in the very core of the band, and while I personally lost track of them, a good core of their fanbase stuck with them through thick and thin. 2010 brought a worthy albeit weaker successor in Come Around Sundown
, while the not-so-great Mechanical Bull
gored its way through 2013 and the mildly acclaimed Walls
finally set them for a long break in 2016. Exhaustion was real, fumes were running low, and it was time to vanish.
The Followill took some much-needed family time after touring that last album extensively, and in doing so they found individuality. The title of the album, and the song that sets it on, is the reflection of this idea. A simple thought, flashing like a shooting star in a quiet room while the rest of the house cheers and ravages in Christmas celebrations. A livid strumming and a silly sing along, which Caleb turned into “100,000 People”, the third track of the album, born from a futile attempt to fend off the hollowness of a simple life that was slowly becoming the embryo of When You See Yourself
From the moment that Caleb started making phone calls and jams resumed, a powerful worm had already made its nest in the hearts of not only their massive and demanding following, but also in their own: a worm called nostalgia.
Because you see, the sound of Kings of Leon is not the kind of sound that would be a matter of discussion among venomous label A&Rs, music industry hyenas and rabid media pimps drooling at the prospect of a new album by the once messiahs of indie rock. Regardless of taste, it's music that have withstood the pass of time admirably, along with the Followill themselves. Together creators and creation have aged gracefully, and in this, the year of our Lord and Savior, when Caleb sings and bends the notes in the chorus of "The Bandit", nostalgia hits, wigs fly again, and the world celebrates with bashful joy: Kings of Leon are back.
The band's eighth release was recorded, mastered and carefully stored in RCA's vaults for over a year, breaking the cycle of new release/touring/new release/touring and giving the band time to contemplate their latest record from a very different perspective. Obviously, there was a good chance that any of the band's four members would snap at the quasi-bossanova feel of “Supermarket”, the static echoes of closer “Fairytale” or the adamant pace of highlight “Echoing”. But none of them did. The new album proved to be exactly what they set to achieve. It's an album that reflects a maturity that is unavoidable, it is a Kings of Leon album through and through, with everything that made you love them (or hate them) over a decade ago, but it's also an album that won't make much of an effort to captivate anyone else. When You See Yourself
is, entirely, an album for the fans.
Caleb's voice still channels that broken man's euphoria with the usual bitterness in tracks like “A Wave” or “Golden Restless Age”, Matthew's guitar still finds the way to contribute to every song with subtlety, like the soft howling in “Claire & Eddie” or to reinforce the song’s bones building layers of distorted reverb and crescent waves of melody like he does in “Fairytale”. Meanwhile Jared's omnipresent bass, here more present than ever, and Nathan’s stark but refined drumming become once more the foundation for the eleven tracks included in When You See Yourself
. It is thanks to them that some of the most upbeat tracks like “The Bandit”, “Golden Restless Age” and especially “Echoing” retain that unmistakable KoL essence. An essence that here has been complemented generously with the use of synths and piano in a way they had never done before.
Cryptic cryptocurrency strategies aside, which I won’t mention here because they don’t add or detract from the album’s experience as far as I know, (and because I would be rambling about things I quite don’t understand just yet), When You See Yourself
is a welcoming return to form for Kings of Leon. It’s a nostalgia sucker punch for those in the right time, in the right place. It's an album that their fanbase will revel in, as opposed to those who found the same satisfaction in scorning them instead. Truth is I may be writing a very different review had my sex never caught fire over a decade ago, but when I see myself, this is what the mirror of time reveals, and I can’t but to trust its reflection.