Jettisoning innovation and emotion, the Followills go full pelt for mega arena FM glory and end up going...nowhere
Nuke the fridge. Jump the shark. Hurdle the monkey. Whatever. There inevitably comes a moment in a huge band’s career where they lose their common touch and become slightly ridiculous. With [a]Oasis[/a] it was [b]Noel Gallagher[/b] visiting 10 Downing Street – then releasing ‘[b]Be Here Now[/b]’ a few weeks later. With [a]U2[/a] it was splurging millions on an overblown feature-film, [i]Rattle And Hum[/i].
And [a]Kings Of Leon[/a]? They lost their cool the instant they unleashed the ‘[b]Radioactive[/b]’ video. A monumentally misguided affair, it was shot in the style of a Center Parcs ad, and found the Followills frolicking with a phalanx of beaming black children. It felt enormously phony, and made many of us wonder if the band had genuinely gone a bit nuts.
Then again: was it such a disaster? In a weird way, ‘[b]Radioactive[/b]’ boded well for their fifth album, the follow-up to the eight-million-selling ‘[b]Only By The Night[/b]’ – a record so successful it achieved the ultimate accolade: one of its songs was covered by [b]Pixie Lott[/b]. After all, music is lacking in cartoonish personalities right now: we could do with a few space-cadet rock stars who’ve utterly blasted off from reality.
After all, if [b]KOL[/b] were capable of a flight of fancy like the ‘[b]Radioactive[/b]’ video, perhaps their next album would be a grand, maximalist folly, laden with gongs, harps and male voice choirs. What price an avant-garde odyssey that consisted entirely of [b]Caleb Followill[/b] whacking a slab of meat and barking into a flugelhorn? It’d be a talking point.
But no. ‘[b]Come Around Sundown[/b]’ is none of those things. It’s not a leftfield swerve. It’s a stately modern rock album that’s so desperate to prove its own authenticity it forgets to be remotely moving. This is music designed to be blasted from drive-time FM radios, and to waft around arenas big enough to have pigeons nesting (and shitting) in the echoing rafters.
Sonically, it consolidates the band’s gradual shift from ramshackle charm to clean-lined grandeur. Guitars twinkle and shimmer, rather than scratch or chug. The album contains one indisputably great song: ‘[b]Back Down South[/b]’, a beautifully subtle country-rock stomp that showcases [a]Kings Of Leon[/a]’s knack for conjuring sonic drama from the simplest of ingredients: for the first two and a half minutes it’s just one bass note and one chord.
That track, combined with the going-back-to-your-roots theme of ‘[b]Radioactive[/b]’ (“[i]It’s in the water, where you came from[/i]”), would suggest ‘[b]Come Around Sundown[/b]’ is all about the band reconnecting with the Southern soil after the rootless hedonism explored on ‘[b]Only By The Night[/b]’. Fine. That’s a good subject. Trouble is, they don’t see it through.
[b]Caleb Followill[/b] has admitted he ad-libbed the lyrics (“[i]I free-floated everything[/i]”). In other words: he was on auto-pilot. The frontman always had a conflicted relationship with his own voice. On early albums he deliberately sang indistinctly to obscure the fact his lyrics didn’t mean anything. The point is: he overcame that on ‘[b]Only By The Night[/b]’. Say what you like about ‘[b]Sex On Fire[/b]’, it is at least about something: a transcendent one-night stand.
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‘[b]Come Around Sundown[/b]’, though, represents a return to opacity. Witness a song like ‘[b]The Immortals[/b]’, which finds Caleb stretching out those trademark grizzled vowel sounds. “[i]Ride away?[/i]” “[i]Right away[/i]”?. Something about a rooster? Who knows – he could be singing about Subbuteo in Elvish and we’d be none the wiser.
Ultimately, too many of these tunes are rehearsal room grooves in search of a hook. They’re clearly meant to convey a sense of wide-open highway: the feeling of a band cruising in effortless fourth gear. Actually, it just sounds like they’re spinning their wheels.
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