With the Kings’ fifth album out soon, Barry Nicolson is your guide to the Followills’ new nuggets
Kings Of Leon always bring out the big guns to open their albums. Remember ‘Closer’, ‘Knocked Up’, ‘Red Morning Light’? ‘The End’ can’t help but suffer by comparison. It’s pitched somewhere between the last two records, with Nathan’s eerie and echoey mid-tempo drums setting the song on slow burn while a chorus-centric explosion of stadium guitars aims for ‘windswept’. More subtle than their typical attention-grabbers.
Sadly, that atrocious video has overshadowed the lead single, but stop sniggering long enough and you might’ve noticed it’s a pretty nifty tune.
You can’t accuse KOL of trying to replicate the success of ‘Only By The Night’ with this album: it’s filled with songs – like this one – that take longer to grow on you than a lot of their new fans will be willing to wait. ‘Pyro’ is dark and downcast, with Caleb declaring that, “Everything I cherish is slowly dying or is gone”, before an oddly Fleetwood Mac-esque hook.
Musically (if not lyrically) reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s wall-of-sound collaborations with Phil Spector, ‘Mary’ is all grungy guitars, doo-wop harmonies and lyrical naiveté (“No, I won’t, never once, make you cry”). It stands out like the best sort of sore thumb.
Musically pretty similar to ‘The End’, albeit far more overwrought and meandering, this comes across as kind of epic ploddage. “Ride out the wait, ride out the wait”, Caleb sings…
Familiar to anyone who’s been YouTube-ing their recent live shows, ‘The Immortals’ starts out with shifty, slithering drums and instructions to, “Put your foot in front of the other/Crow like a rooster” before a shoutalong, shoegazery chorus not a million miles from ‘Because Of The Times’’ more ambitious cuts.
‘Back Down South’
The big roots-return, country rock anthem – though we don’t remember the young Kings ever sounding this sweet and vulnerable. Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous song, and will likely be the album’s big live moment.
Caleb has spoken about how he didn’t write lyrics in advance for this album, ad libbing them when he got into the vocal booth. When the opening lines to this taut, subtly funky number – “I got Nacho, thinking that he’s always right/Blowing smoke rings, making me want to fight” – croak in, you can certainly hear that. Not to mention picturing his cousin on the other side of the glass, goading him on.
A return to ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ vintage, with sawtoothed garage-rock guitars and kinetic post-punk drums driving along the album’s nastiest, most swaggering moment, with Caleb snarling, “I got no money but I want your soul”. Those were the days, eh?
There’s that funk again. ‘Pony Up’ completely catches us off-guard with its tropical, Vampire Weekend-esque guitar riff and syncopated party rhythms reminiscent of The Rapture. They’re strange points of reference for the Kings, but they wear them well. You can tell they stretched themselves here, and it’s paid off handsomely.
Despite the title, they’ve thankfully been sensible enough not to write a song about actual birthdays (“We’re gonna come together, we’re gonna celebrate”, goes the chorus, “We’re gonna gather round, like it’s your birthday”). Though it is in possession of a love-it-or-hate-it insanely catchy bastard of a melody.
That melancholic, booze-sodden horn section sounds like a first for KOL, and unusually for this album the lyrics paint a clear picture – this time of a bad-seed mate who, “Chews me up and spits me out/And then wants my asshole”. Sounds ever so slightly ‘Exile On Main St’.
The Big One. Jared’s creeping, tiptoeing bassline underpins a stark, atmospheric verse before some seriously epic guitars signal the album’s biggest chorus coming in to land: “Hate to be so emotional”, cries Caleb, “I didn’t mean to get physical”. If ‘Come Around Sundown’ began in slightly underwhelming circumstances, it ends in completely overwhelming ones.
This article originally appeared in the October 9 issue of NME
Pick up the new issue to read our verdict on ‘Come Around Sundown’