Thursday, April 5, 2007

First Blush: Kings of Leon – Because of the Times

Kings of Leon’s first two releases have been dubbed “Southern Rock” by most pundits, and while they are from Tennessee, I really believe their music could have come from just about anywhere in the United States. The band is named in homage of their father/uncle and grandfather (three of the members are brothers, while their cousin is the lead singer). They’re generally at their best when said frontman Caleb Followill is half pleading, half wailing and the band is playing fast. Their lyrics range from spiritual to playful to downright bawdy. I personally think they transcend their labels. That said, if I were to OWR them, I’d call them “Bitchin’.” But enough of my yakkin’. Whaddya say? Let’s boogie!

Track 1 – Knocked Up
0:05 – We begin with a stompin’ bass drum and some light snare tapping before the bass comes in with an U2-esque progression.
0:50 – The vocals are mighty echoed here
1:13 – “She don’t care what her momma says, no she’s gonna have my baybeeee…” I feel like I have a good grasp on the topic of this one for once. Unless it’s all a metaphor.
2:00 – All is still kind of quiet and–
2:05 – Edgy guitar strumming matches a pounding drumbeat, dwarfing the vocals completely
2:20 – And we’re back (quiet times). But Caleb is starting to wail just a bit more
4:03 – “Oh-oh-oh-o-oah” is waaay in the background. It’s quite atmospheric.
4:20 – And now that call is echoed by other voices.
5:27 – It’s a good opener for a band’s third album. Like they’re not going to show us everything right away, but are just setting the table for what’s to come. Good thing I’m hungry. (Ugh – OK, that’s officially the worst pun I’ve written on this blog.)
7:03 – That’s a seven-minute opening track folks!

Track 2 – Charmer
0:16 – Yeah, this promises to be more “bitchin’.”
0:25 – Caleb just made a noise that sounds like a chinchilla being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Don’t blame me for the imagery. He did it. Frankly, I’m frightened.
0:57 – The only lyrics we’ve heard outside of the chinchilla so far is “She’s such a charmer, oh no.”
1:30 – This one is downright heavy. The guitars are just sort of metal.
1:45 – “She’s always lookin’ at me! She’s such a charmer, oh no.”
2:28 – Now we’re cookin’

Track 3 – Oncall
0:11 – Spacey notes on the guitar set up pleading vocals. Yes, I realize I’m using that word a lot. I’ll break out the thesaurus next time, ‘kay?
0:45 – This guitar is totally punk, even if the song isn’t.
2:01 – This song doesn’t sound like them - whatever that means. People change their style. It’s somehow more straight ahead than I’m used to.
2:36 – This solo can only be called one thing and that would be Skynyrdy.
3:07 – “I’m on call – I’ll be there”

Track 4 – McFearless
0:10 – The guitar and drums are busy like Bloc Party. It seems in general that 3.1 tracks into this, their chops are at an all-time high.
2:10 – I’ve always found myself clapping along like crazy to various KOL tunes. But this one is so busy, I don’t know if drummer Nathan Followill has left me any room to add something.

Track 5 – Black Thumbnail
0:27 – Howlin’ Wolf would be proud of Caleb on this one. He’s got a great blues-yowl goin’.
1:16 – Stompy McGee here. This is going to send them into a frenzy live. It’s like ELO meets the Cars meets something bitchin’.
2:08 – I have no idea what he’s saying, but I if it weren’t for keeping this blush going, I’d be jumping around right now.
2:21 – Clearly heard: “Now guitar – GO GUITAR!”

Track 6 – My Party
0:32 – Caleb’s vocals sound strikingly like Trent Reznor, right down to the near-rapping.
1:29 – The way the bass is thumping this rythym, it’s bending closer to LCD Soundsystem. They’re all over the place with this album so far. Is it a great leap forward? Or just erratic nonsense? Since I’m thoroughly enjoying things so far, I’m strongly guessing the former.
2:26 – Damn good fuzzy guitar solo.
3:30 – “wOOoooooh. This is my party, this is my party!” It sure is.

Track 7 – True Love
0:19 – Sorry for all the band comparisons, but this track resembles The Futureheads.
0:38 – Not so much now with Caleb’s suppliant lead vocals. Yes, that came from the thesaurus. Don’t complain, we all just learned a new word.
1:39 – If there was a new Karate Kid movie coming out now, this would probably be the “You’re the Best Around” or “The Glory of Love” of the new generation.
2:38 – “People say our babies are walkin’ this tooowwwwn.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.

Track 8 – Ragoo
0:15 – Two guitars and a bass are all working off one another playfully.
0:44 – I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m hoping that this song title came from Adam Sandler’s “The Goat”. Have good mosh-pitting!
1:15 – “Either way, you caught me whilst I was lying. You caught me with my pants down.” Unlikely that this is Goat-related.
2:07 – Just a superb, catchy bass line on this one. You could throw any song you want on top of a bass line like that and it’ll pop.

Track 9 – Fans
0:36 – First real yodel shout from Caleb. Probably right to make it more subtle than in previous releases, but nice to hear it again, anyway.
2:06 – This song tells a story of someone listening to a song, saying things like “bump to the rythym and bop to the beat of the radio.” That would bother the hell out of me if it weren’t so damn catchy.

Track 10 – The Runner
0:37 – A Dylan-esque beginning. Things are stripped down, and Caleb’s vocals are a bit more singsongy, but still beseeching something (hat tip: thesaurus).
1:38 – Things kind of build up to a smooth, rich chorus. It’s not heavy by any means.
2:49 – The lyrics of this song are basically about being on the road, away from family and friends, and the fact that Jesus will still be there for you. Don’t know if I mentioned it, but these boy’s father and grandfather were both preachers. They thank God first in the liner notes. Nashville is last.

Track 11 – Trunk
1:03 – Major echoes on the vocals here, with another superb bass line carrying the tune.
2:37 – Two sections to this song, and they keep going back and forth. The great bass line is not enough on this track to make it stand out at this point. It has that “we almost didn’t include it on the album” vibe going. But perhaps they wanted a more mellow groove to set up the last two.

Track 12 – Camaro
0:20 – Each instrument takes its turn coming in on this one
0:42 - “She looks so cool in her new Camaro. It’s black as coal and it goes, boy, it go-go-goes!”
0:55 – Golly this song sounds a ton like “Slow Night, So Long,” the first one off their last album (Aha Shake Heartbreak).
2:51 – All instruments are getting progressively louder.

Track 13 – Arizona
0:15 – This intro has “last song on the album” written all over it. Guitar with drums, setting a tone of conclusion.
0:58 – “That taste – all I ever needed,” but in a really importunate way (this ends the vocabulary lesson for this evening).
4:07 – It stayed calm throughout, almost like movie-soundtrack music, and then just faaaaded out.

So what have we learned here? It is accurate to say that this album is a departure from previous efforts, but the clearest difference is a higher level of musicianship. I think I miss the shit-kickers a little bit, but I’ll take some exploration in their place. The production is much richer and cleaner than on previous albums, and that fits with the other changes. None of the tracks stand out above the others, but that’s never been their thing, anyway. I kept mentioning the bass lines because each one fit its song perfectly. So I’m coming away initially impressed. This may not be what they’ve done best in the past, but perhaps it’s time for a new chapter, as is custom for strong bands on their third release. I can’t believe I’m going to miss their show (5/19 at Riviera – more on that damn venue tomorrow). But y’all should go!

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