Music: Only By The Night Review From happyalone.com: Transcribed by PhoebeTheKid @ happyalone
KINGS OF LEON Only By The Night Can the Glastonbury headliners seize their moment? Yes **** Four Stars Q recommends
Kings of Leon are a band in a hurry. In the 17 months since the release of their third album, Because of the Times, they have risen from the indie-rock foothills to the status of genuine arena rock band, in the UK at least, a passage that culminated in the Friday-night headliner slot at this year's Glastonbury. Back home in the US they still mean less than a gnats chuff, although a hitherto elusive degree of critical acclaim has been forthcoming of late.
Enter Only By The Night, at a relatively breathless pace, on the heels of it's predecessor and very evidently here to capitalize on all that forward momentum. Recorded last April in their Nashville hometown with BOTT producer Angelo Petraglia, it is, equally obviously, intended to be the album by which the three Followill brothers and their cousin will be established as a properly global concern. Hence, while it picks up very much where BOTT (itself a more rounded, approachable collection than their first two albums) left off, so, too, have all their remaining rough edges been smoothed out. This is a record with will sound most at home on the radio or in the larger venue. that surely being the point.
What's also immediately apparent is the greater assurance by which Kings of Leon go about their business. Increasingly, they're a band that wisely adhere to the maxim that less is more, and what they've left off these 11 tracks is as pivotal as what's been included. It's a record marked by roomy arrangements and open spaces. The odd loop, a splash of electric piano, some hand bells... these aside, each of the songs is bare to the bone and better for it. Nathan Followill's drums shuffle them along, the guitars of his brother Caleb and cousin Matthew jab and stab about, and at the heart of each is their secret weapon, brother Jared Followill's bass, which carries most of the main melody lines with a bubble and a bounce to its gait. This sense of confidence markedly manifests itself in the lead vocals of Caleb Followill. Gone entirely are the tics and mannerisms that previously made him sound like a man trying to communicate through a mouthful or marbles. Rather he simply sings, and rather splendidly so throughout.
Such clarity does allow one to properly hear his lyrics for perhaps the first time, something that doesn't entirely alter the suspicion that he either has relatively little to say, or is still struggling to do so effectively. Closer, and everyday tale of marauding vampires, is saddled with a real clunker of an opening line ("Stranded in this spooky town..."), when the title of the albums first single, Sex on Fire, could make the hardiest of toes curl. Cold Desert, the final track, does find Caleb, the son of a preacher, reflecting that, "Jesus don't love me, no one ever carried my load", so perhaps a greater degree of insight will be along later.
For now, though, it's very much about how Kings of Leon sound, and in that sense, they are becoming increasingly distinctive. Indeed, if one were to hear and of these 11 tracks in isolation, it would take but a few bars to identify them as belonging to Kings of Leon, which puts the band in a very select minority of their peers. And across ONBTN's first five songs especially, the sound terrific! The aforementioned Closer rolls along at a pleasingly atmospheric slow burn, and, to be fair, does recover from that fumbling first line to dole out some nice fiery sun and boiling oceans imagery. Crawl is built impressively atop a grinding, fuzzed-up bassline and given to punchy guitar bursts. And (awful title notwithstanding) Sex on Fire is, as you will probably know by now, a sprightly rocker with a chorus as concise as it is immediate.
Use Somebody, though, must surely be the song upon which the Kings of Leon's people are placing all bets. A big rock ballad of the sort that used to sign off all of those John Hughes teenage melodramas, it will likely as not lead them to that wider audience. Likewise, Manhattan, with it's jangling guitar motif and estimable lead vocal, is evidence of a band hitting a sure-footed stride. Here, and elsewhere, they echo the flowering of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, another fearsomely tight American band with a similar knack for taking the classic rock playbook as their source material and then shaping it to their own ends. For further evidence, see the melancholic on-the-road ballad Cold Desert, wherein Kings of Leon dredge up the old false ending trick, but also conjure a convincing mood of too many soulless motel rooms and red-eyed mornings. Or I Want You, which approximates how the new-wave pop bands of the 80's, the Split Enzs and the Wang Chungs, would have conducted themselves had they grown up in America's Deep South and retained a predilection for the cowbell.
There is filler, too. Revelry and Seventeen, pretty and insubstantial both, have the sense of being warmed-up leftovers from the last albums sessions, and the otherwise perfectly acceptable Notion and Be Somebody are each variations on the musical themes from elsewhere on the album. In simple terms, then, Only By The Night amounts to seven hits, a couple of misses and two solid tracks. More pointedly, Kings Of Leon needed to make a very specific-sounding type of album in order to seize their moment, and that they have done, entirely successfully.
DOWNLOAD: Closer Crawl Sex on Fire Use Somebody Manhattan I Want You Cold Desert