To listen to Kings Of Leon‘s back catalogue in one blast is to listen to four young men coming of age musically and in life. Theirs is a journey that’s taken them from hokey country-fried rockers to the stadium-filling unit they are today. They’ve released six albums in just ten years and, largely, kept the quality up. Did you only like Kings Of Leon before they released the ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ EP? Is ‘Sex On Fire’ their high water mark? Let us know how you’d rank the albums in the comments below.
6‘Come Around Sundown’ (2010)’
The onstage fallings-out and bust-ups (and we’re not talking about the pigeon poop incident) that followed the release of this album suggest that trouble had been brewing in camp Followill for sometime. Perhaps that’s why this album flim flams between a feeling of edginess (the moody opening track ‘The End’ says, repeatedly, “This could be the end”) and a further plunge into the pool of soft rock, suggesting that the band were beginning to run on fumes. Three albums into their reinvention, there was a sense that Kings Of Leon need to redefine their sound – and purpose – again.
5‘Only By The Night’ (2008)
We’ve not put it fifth just to be indie – obviously, ‘Only By The Night’ contains two of Kings Of Leon’s biggest hits (and only tracks likely to be covered on The X Factor) the unbridled, feral rush of‘Sex On Fire’ and the swooning ‘Use Somebody’. On the back of those tracks, this album was their big commercial breakthrough. Thing is, it’s also one of the patchier, tamer albums in their cannon, the raw rock formula forged for ‘Because Of The Times’ being polished for FM There’s a creeping element of musical Polyfilla between the big hits too: ‘Crawl’, for one, sounds like 1970s Aerosmith idly jamming in the practice room.
4‘Mechanical Bull’ (2013)
“I was running through the desert/I was lookin’ for drugs”, booms Caleb on ‘Rock City’, but ‘Mechanical Bull’ never really fulfils the promise of such debauchery. Instead it peaks with fairly mild-mannered thrills, from the Tom Petty-styled bluesy poise of ‘Temple’ to Family Tree”s ballsy blasts of Sly and the Family Stone type guitar power. A decent, if not exceptional, offering from the Followill clan that could have done with less balladry.
3‘Youth & Young Manhood’ (2003)
Remember just how exciting Kings Of Leon were when you first saw them? Young and hairy, with a Southern Gothic backstory about three preacher’s sons and a cousin falling prey to the pull of the electric guitar, they were quickly branded ‘the Southern Strokes’, and like their New York counterparts, they delivered a debut album that was to become a touchstone of modern indie. It was a rock show at a hoe-down, a hickory-smoked collection of taut rock ‘n’ roll bangers delivered with true grit. Caleb’s rasping, raw vocals were a strange thing to come from one so young. Want to feel that excitement again? Give ‘California Waiting’ another spin – it still sounds just as fresh.
2‘Because Of The Times’ (2007)
Between ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ and ‘Only By The Night’, Kings Of Leon discovered three things: razorblades, shaving foam, and the key to a stadium rock future, inspired, no doubt, by stints supporting Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan and U2 on tour. In this album, they abandoned the rickety garage rock of their origins in favour of a percussive and slick rock sounddelivered with raw, unabashed energy – the track ‘Charmer’ is essentially just riffing and screaming. This was the not just the sound of a band growing up, it was the sound of them stepping up to the plate.
1‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ (2004)
Released just a year after their debut, the band’s second album took the Southern rock-meets-noughties indie affectations of ‘Youth And Young Manhood’ and refined it. It’s ‘Youth And Slightly Less Young Manhood’, if you will. Most of all, it strengthened the band’s world: songs like ‘Taper Jean Girl’ and ‘The Bucket’ and conjured images of an American adolescence rendered in an Instagram haze. The album’s centerpiece, and later star of live shows, was ‘Milk’, which builds from nought to towering in four minutes. Still got no idea what he’s saying at the start though. “So delee”? “Salty Lee”? “Salted meat”? Answers in the comments, please.