At two years and 11 months, Kings Of Leon’s sixth album marks the longest time the Followill family have ever taken between releasing albums. Was it worth the wait? Here’s our first listen to the ‘Mechanical Bull’ (out September 24), track by track.
So you’ve doubtless already heard this one, what with it being the first single from ‘Mechanical Bull’. They debuted it live during their comeback show at the Governors Ball festival in New York back in June and released it a month later. It’s all chugging guitars and breezy melody, with Caleb Followill longingly proclaiming: “I don’t mind sentimental girls at times”. It's got way more in common with their carefree early work than the last few albums, which depending on your preference could be awesome or awful.
‘Rock City’ begins with a wailing guitar line, before Caleb gives a whoop or two before kicking out the Creedence-y jams, and letting us know he’s on the hunt for a down and dirty partner. “I was looking for a bad girl/looking for a bad boy,” he says with a certain amount of hustle, before intriguingly adding - “I could shake it like a woman.” Now that is something we have to see.
Definitely the meanest sounding song on ‘Mechanical Bull’, ‘Don’t Matter’ cements its punk credentials by pulling in 10 seconds shy of the three minute mark, opening with an almighty scream and then piling into a beefy, no-nonsense guitar riff. For reasons that should be obvious, “I can fuck or I can fight/It don’t matter to me,”is the lyric that stands out the most.
The album’s first determined step into ballad territory, ‘Beautiful War’ is a lovers tiff and kiss and make-up stretched out into five minutes of Southern desperation and plaintive twanging. Warbling echo effects on the guitars amp up those feelings of longing. It’s not necessary to picture the band playing it whilst perched on the rim of the Grand Canyon, wiping away big soppy man tears, but it kind of makes sense.
The album’s cornerstone is also the record’s most exciting track. ‘Temple’ is four minutes of prime Kings Of Leon. Fans of ‘Youth And Young Manhood’ and ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ will find a lot to love here, from the downright perkiness of the tune - all giddy teenage glee and unapologetic party vibes - to the indie disco invite that is the song’s pounding backbeat. Stupidly catchy and insanely fun – this is Kings Of Leon at their best. “The dancefloor’s a temptress,” says Caleb by way of an opening.
‘Wait For Me’
Tissues, family-sized box of chocolates and shitty rom-com DVDs at the ready, because it’s slowie time again. ‘Wait For Me’ sees the band getting into those spacious, reverberating sonics that they always seem to revert too when singing about serious matters of the heart. Calling his sweetheart ‘darlin’ over melancholy riffage and down-home, apple-pie harmonies, Caleb leads his Kings slowly but surely, building up to a simple but satisfying breakdown at 2.10. “It’s all better now,” he croons over and over on the fade-out in a soul salving fashion.
It’s out with the slush and in with the funk for ‘Family Tree’. Kings Of Leon look towards the Stax Records sound of the 1970s as well as the all out good-time groove of Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament for this hip-shaking, loin-thrusting excursion into the edges of party soul. It’s a welcome break from tradition for the gang; a bass-driven booty call of a song with a handclap breakdown, which will no doubt rear its rhythmic head for some audience participation during the band’s next clutch of live dates.
Kings Of Leon flex their redemptive muscle for the mid-paced, wide-open Americana of ‘Comeback Story’. The presence of some pedal steel proves that Kings Of Leon will never stray too far from their roots, with the ghosts of classic country artists hanging around to haunt the track. It also features the hilarious line - “I walk a mile in your shoes/and now I’m a mile away/and I’ve got your shoes” – which just makes us imagine Caleb legging it in his girlfriends stilettos and then having a right old chuckle to himself as he rubs his blisters in a deserted cornfield.
The mid-paced tempo stays much the same for the follow-up to ‘Comeback Story’. Yet ‘Tonight’ is far darker and Caleb’s definitely a wee bit angrier here, huskily laying down tales of lovers paying for their sins and Broadway lights. If we’re talking Kings Of Leon genealogy, it’s the first-born offspring of ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Pyro’. This is the band on epic, grandiose terms.
‘Coming Back Again’
Another twisted love song in which Caleb sings of a lady fond of that classic posh girl combo, “Rosé wine and skinny cigarettes”. Despite his predicament – sounds like the lass in question is giving him the runaround and goddamnit if he isn’t falling for her again– things are pretty upbeat, with pile-driving drums and an insistent, throbbing melody.
‘On The Chin’
The LP draws to a close with ‘On The Chin’, a calm confessional with subtle yacht rock flourishes, like prime 1980s Hall & Oates if they swapped the Hawaiian shirts and boating hols for Nudie suits and evenings sitting on the stoop of their clapperboard Nashville cottage. Pedal steel sounds also pepper the track, adding a South Seas swagger that’s all sunsets and Daiquiris.