Kings of Leon hold a special place in my heart. When I was a young, gap-toothed oddball my ‘cool’ older brother introduced me to this head-banging Tennessee band. Incidentally, he also introduced me to Guns ‘n’ Roses on a 7 hour flight, after which I told everyone who would listen that they were my favourite band ever. I thought Kings of Leon were the definition of rule breakers: screamy, boozy and devil-may-care. They always looked a bit sweaty, which was a sure sign of coolness and their on-stage presence was like watching a rockstar tear up a hotel room in downtown LA. In short, they shredded hard.
As I grew up and started on the never-ending path towards musical literacy, I maintained that there was a lot to be said for these boys. They knew how to layer guitars, making the backing beefy but never overwhelming. And Caleb Followill’s sweet sweet pipes could go from heartbreaking crooning to heavy metal screaming at the drop of a mic. Sure, their chords were a bit generic at times and yeah, half the time you couldn’t hear a damn lyric because of Caleb’s drawling accent. But heck, no one could say they couldn’t carry a rock song.
Since my youth, they’ve had some troubling times. Alcoholism and a complete disillusionment with fame have clouded what was a mightily successful career. The band are a dysfunctional family (both metaphorically and literally) and certainly don’t always get along. Their somewhat unusual story can be seen in the excellent 2011 documentary, “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon”. I won’t condense the story because I want you to watch the doc so much. But essentially, shit’s fucked up yo.
But alas, rocks becomes sand and rockers become sad. The Kings have recently been enacting a Hamlet-style breakdown, from the throes of on and off-stage drama to the beigeness of their very own middle-age. Instead of offering up raw, sweaty low-fi rock bangers, they’ve seen 3 albums of what is known in the trade as ‘pandering drivel’. Like Mumford and Sons after them, the boys have found themselves bogged down in the realms of high-paying stadium-gig mud. What they’ve become known for is ‘ooh-ahh’ choruses and lyrics that instead of being hard to understand are actually completely incomprehensible.
Now, Cowbellites, we are not actually hipster dicks. We can appreciate a cheesy banger, believe me (One Dance is my current number 1 track- haterz be gone). But what we cannot appreciate is an utter lack of a little something called ‘creativity’. And by golly, have these boys lost theirs. Their new album, ‘Walls’, sounds like it was made by a stoned sloth with a penchant for Coldplay and U2. I would say it reeks of boredom but this stuff isn’t near strong enough to reek. It’s awash with three word choruses and three chord riffs and three minute snapshots of what it feels like to watch someone with a monobrow pluck each individual eyebrow hair out. Even the production is muted. At high volumes, all you can really make out is guitary noise with the occasional half-hearted screech from a tired out Caleb.
There are few moments of freshness in any form. “Muchacho” is one of them, with it’s jaunty, stripped-down beat and summery production. But upon closer inspection, the lyrics have no substance whatsoever and could have been written by a preschooler. Come to think of it, all the lyrics on this album could have been written by Miley Cyrus in her Hannah Montana days. “You tore out my heart/You threw it away/A Western girl with Eastern eyes”. This line from Walls, the title track, could have literally been pulled out of The Hannah Montana Movie.
But you know what, that’s not even the worst bit about it. Because, if we’re being honest, Kings of Leon have never made much sense. That’s not why we loved them. We loved them cause they meant it. Whatever the hell they were screaming about, they believed the shit out of it. And now, Caleb sounds like he’s singing to the crowd at an old people’s home. He could be singing any damn thing, as long as the cheque came in. That, my friends, is a sellout and a half. And not because they have catchy choruses, but because they don’t believe a damn note coming out of their instruments.
Picture source: http://alyricsite.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/kingsofleon-walls-album-2016.jpg