Album A&E is a series in which we revisit underrated, forgotten or misunderstood albums and give them some much-needed rehabilitation. Here’s a look at Kings of Leon’s ‘Youth & Young Manhood’, released in the States 10 years ago today.
There aren’t many guitar bands with such a clear cut line etched down the middle of their career as Kings Of Leon. Their first phase was all grotty garage and country shakedowns and the second – post 2004’s ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ – a raft of ambitious widdles, grandiose riffage and some seriously intense vibes. Some fans are loyal to the former and others to the latter, but whichever side of the fence you fall on, it’s hard to deny the sheer brilliance of their very first effort.
A full decade ago, way back before the band discovered the work of U2, blockbuster power ballads and the nearest barbers, the Followill foursome put out their fizzingly exciting debut, the aptly titled ‘Youth & Young Manhood’. It’s the sound of four hormone-heavy dudes unbuckling the Bible belt and frolicking with flaxen haired girls in Tennessee cornfields, necking as much moonshine as they can manage.
Arriving in the poker-faced wake of The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Libertines, ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ was a breath of fresh Southern air. A gaggle of hot-blooded 1970s throwbacks with more hair than Dolly Parton’s wig storage space, their chugging hillbilly groove wasn’t overly deep, but it was heavy with hooks, snarling personality and glorious imperfections, like Caleb’s cracked vocals on ‘Trani’ – the only track on the album to broach the five minute mark by a significant margin.
Partially recorded at the legendary Sound City Studios in California – the subject of Dave Grohl’s Sound City movie and where everything from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ to Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘American Recordings’ were laid down – its classic, timeless feel is unsurprising. It was co-written with pop country songwriter Angelo Petraglia – who now produces the band but stays out of the writing process – and it was rumoured that Petraglia Svengali-ed the whole process, something he’s repeatedly denied. “There was a misconception from the beginning where some people thought this band was put together, which is so untrue,” he told Gibson guitars a few years ago. “I mean these guys have so much talent, whether it was in the beginning very raw, talent is talent.” What is true is that Petraglia gave these good Christian boys some electric guitars and records by The Rolling Stones and The Clash. That, mixed up with their Pentecostal, sons-of-a-preacherman background gave rise to the soul-studded, driving likes of ‘Red Morning Light’ and ‘Genius’, the kind of music made for road trips across the wide open landscapes of the Deep South. The musical debt to Creedence Clearwater Revival is deep too, whilst ‘Dusty’ has a bluesy White Stripes-ish edge. Early Kings had that untrammelled, wayward sex thing down pat too, as evidenced by the hot make-out punk of ‘Molly’s Chambers’. “You’ll plead, you’ll get down on your knees/For just another taste,” hollers Caleb, with just the right amount of perviness.
‘Youth & Young Manhood’ also boasts what is possibly Kings Of Leon’s finest ever song. Rather than megahits ‘Sex On Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’, the band’s divine ‘California Waiting’ is still their crowning glory – and the slicker ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ EP version even better. From the opening, urgent cowbell thwacks, it’s an accidental anthem and sounds like they’re hardly trying at all, a trick they lost on their later albums.