Having never heard of the band Kings of Leon myself until four days ago, I am not speaking from personal experience when I say that the band has dramatically changed its sound with its new album ‘Only By The Night”. However, from what I’ve read of the customer reviews on iTunes, it seems that many fans are distraught by how much they conformed to a new wave of alternative rock genres from their previous southern rock roots.
Although I am not a ‘hardcore” Kings of Leon fan, I can see where those fans are coming from. At the beginning of the album, the music leading up to the singer’s entrance is both alternative- and punk-like with distorted electric piano followed up by drum set and, finally, guitar that simulates the rising and falling pitch of a siren. These elements naturally make the listener anticipate the typical voice of that genre: clear, high and articulate.
Yet when the singer comes in his voice is unexpectedly the opposite. Lead singer Caleb Followill has a strong and grungy voice reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen. The lack of enunciation and his tendency to belt out vocals make it clear that the Tennessee native has had a past with southern rock. It is almost as though he was trying to find the barn to sing for the dance floor when some instrumentalists from New York City decided to take him under their wings. There is simply a disconnect between the instrumentalists and vocalist that prevents them from congealing completely.
However, that is not to say that there are not some interesting combinations of sounds created by Kings of Leon. At the start of ‘Manhattan,” distorted guitar gives the effect of symphonic strings, which perhaps symbolizes the lure of Manhattan, in all its elegance and glamour. Reverberated bass lines and back-up vocals throughout ‘Revelry” conjure up images of sound waves wiggling through water and makes it seem as if the band should be performing in scuba diving outfits complete with snorkels and flippers.
While ‘Revelry” seems underwater-themed, there is a total shift in sound to ’17” which makes one think of Christmas. The song begins with bell tones that evoke the twinkling of lights on a Christmas tree and the warm feel of a mug of hot cocoa in your fingers. Once the chimes fade to the twang of the guitar, though, the listener is transported back to an ordinary day that is much less nostalgic. One particularly interesting song is ‘I Want You.” Percussionist Nathan Followill mixes cowbell and tambourine to create a catchy offbeat, which when combined with the bass sounds like it could belong in a family of surfing songs.
Lyrics throughout the album are, for the most part, repetitive and not entirely coherent.
There are several analogies established that don’t connect with their hidden meanings. The main themes throughout the album consist of love, angst and sex. Three songs especially focus on this last theme, including ’17,” ‘Sex on Fire” and ‘I Want You.” One phrase I found fairly unexpected and forward in ‘I Want You” was, ‘It’s heavy I know/the black guy with the gift down below.” I’m not sure, but this could be another reason why fans accustomed to the former southern rock style of Kings were surprised and turned off by this latest album.
Kings of Leon’s latest album may be in a style very unfamiliar to fans of their older works, but it should not be dismissed altogether as unworthy of listening to. Although is not perfect with its repetitive lyrics and melodies, as well a sound that combines two very different styles of vocals and instruments, it is still memorable. Their mismatching sounds in fact create a very unique resonance when combined. In short, if you’ve heard King’s work before and liked it, this may not be the CD for you. But if you have never heard them before, you may want to explore ‘Only by the Night,” because once you listen to the songs, they will easily be stuck in your head for hours afterward.
Dickerson is a member of the class of 2012.