“That woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter? She likes my music. That’s f**king not cool.” So said Caleb Followill in 2009. Back then, a mere year on from ‘Sex On Fire’ and his band being catapulted out of hipsterdom and into the super-mainstream, you could understand his shell shock.
But it feels like Kings Of Leon have also spent much of the seven years that followed trying to reconnect with their original audience, while not quite being brave enough to shed the stadium histrionics entirely. ‘Come Around Sundown’ and ‘Mechanical Bull’ had their moments, but the neither-here-nor-there approach left both in a no man’s land that was still too commercial for old fans, and now too difficult for the new ones.
The good news is that, on their seventh album, Kings Of Leon have simply stopped giving a s**t whether cool people or cool people’s mums will like them. Instead they’ve done what comes naturally – and also what they’re very good at. To put it simply, it’s clear that they like big, possibly-a-bit-cheesy choruses, and so have written 10 of them.
The way lead-off single ‘Waste A Moment’ rises into its bellowed hook is not a million miles away from ‘Sex On Fire’, and it proves to not be a red herring. All the songs here are unashamedly, brilliantly radio and Main Stage-ready: three songs in and we’ve had two of the ultimate going-for-the-jugular phrases (“On the ray-di-oooh!” in ‘Reverend’, then “Been around the world!” in ‘Around The World’), while the likes of ‘Find Me’, ‘Over’ and the closing title track exhibit their widescreen-ness unashamedly. And as for the calypso-with-whistling of ‘Muchacho’, well: any band who do calypso-with-whistling are clearly not too worried what people think any more.
Most of all though, ‘Walls’ just feels fresh. Kings Of Leon were great as a cult band, and great as a stadium band. It doesn’t matter which they do, just as long as they do it with conviction. And here they sound more focused and alive than they have for a while.