Kings of Leon -- a band at the height of their popularity, at their fullest -- is attempting to reach back to their southern roots. When talking with people about Kings of Leon, they are often divided into two camps: people who prefer the first two albums, and the masses who know them by their latest two releases. On their fifth album (which drops October 19), the band tries to recapture the rawness of their early work while maintaining the fuller sound they've developed in becoming one of the most successful bands in the world.
After their classic debut Youth and Young Manhood, expectations were high for the band dubbed the "Southern-Fried Strokes." Their sophomore album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, only raised the stakes, but it wasn't until Because of the Times and Only By The Night that they really hit mega stardom and every frat boy started asking if you've heard of the band Kings of Leon. Want more proof? Rolling Stone ranked Youth And Young Manhood as 80, yet gave Aha Shake Heartbreak 39th place in their top 100 albums of the decade.
It took me a little while to accept both Because of the Times and By The Night, but with time they've both fit perfectly into the Kings of Leon canon. I mean, where would this band be without songs like "Arizona," "Fans," and "Knocked Up"? Because of the Times its an undeniably great Kings of Leon album. And no matter how many times you've heard "Sex on Fire" miffed on Guitar Hero, it's still a good song. With this attitude, I'm approaching Come Around Sundown with a more open mind.
So what is part five all about? Kings of Leon pull a Tarantino and start at "The End," a darker, more resonating track with an ominous reminder sounding like a warning siren -- "this could be the end" -- lyrics lead singer Caleb Followill recently claimed to have improvised.
"I didn't write the lyrics, I went in and ad-libbed, I free-floated everything. The closer it got to the end, I felt like, 'Man, you didn't do your job'," he revealed in November's Uncut Magazine.
The first single, "Radioactive," a leftover from the Aha Shake Heartbreak era, finds the family Followill bathing in their Tennessee roots, fully equipped with a children's gospel chorus. "Back Down South" continues in that vain, rolling in with violins and fiddles ablaze, as Followill declares, "All I wanna know/How far you wanna go?/I'm going back down South." How appropriate. The catchiness of "Birthday" ensures that it remains a mainstay at birthday barbecues for all eternity.
The bulk of the album, however, hammers on in true Kings of Leon fashion, with only a few standout tracks. Parts of the album come off as an unfinished demo, while others bask in a warm southern sun. As for Followill's lyrical improvisation, if true, it seemed to add an element of rawness from their earlier work, but at times his southern crooning lacked in energy, as certain moments seemed lost in a repetitive ramble.
In the end though, I expected a grander return to form, and even the most die-hard fans will admit although it's an enjoyable addition, Come Around Sundown won't go down as Kings of Leon's best work.