Kings Of Leon, Come Around Sundown Review

The Kings of the south are back with a brand new record and this one’s definitely not another Only By The Night, but is that a bad thing? The finest thing to come out of Tennessee since Jack Daniels, take a bold gamble.

The first teaser I had of Come Around Sundown was back in June when the band played four new songs for the very first time at their headline show in Hyde Park. As soon as I heard the chorus of ‘The Immortals’ drop, I was stunned. Its chirpy introductory guitar riff and anthemic corker of a chorus almost managed to put ‘Use Somebody’ to shame. As one the few songs on the album where the lyrics were actually written before hand, it beams a sense of accomplishment and finding happiness by following your dreams – “the path of greatness it’s at your fingers/go be the one that keeps on fighting” before adding “don’t forget to love ‘fore you’re gone”.

The record is formally begun by ‘The End’, which is confusing for even the brightest of people. With a strong melody and an Editors-esque guitar riff, it seems to pick up where Only By The Night left off. Spirits are uplifted immediately after with ‘Radioactive’, a recycled and restructured melody from the Aha Shake Heartbreak era. It doesn’t surprise me that this was chosen for the first single. ‘Mary’ is a mid-tempo rock n roll gem with a dirty blues bassline straight out of the 60’s. Lyrically, vocalist Caleb cries about his older brother getting married and then throws a few well placed “ha ha ha ha ha’s” in-between. Lead guitarist Matthew’s rocking solo gives it that extra special kick along with the background vocals. ‘Back Down South’ (sometimes referred to as ‘Southbound’) really risks their rock star credentials. This real laid back, gather round the fire, country bumpkin tune follows all the typical conventions. It’s cringe worthy in places but it’s a feel-good song that sees the band rejoicing their roots and influences. They’ve tried to touch on their earlier sound with a more grown up approach but unfortunately it comes across more Billie Ray Cyrus than it probably should. A side of the band we’re not very familiar with is unleashed in ‘Beach Side’, a melody that sounds more like a contemporary indie band than the biggest rock band in the world. But saying that, it’s fresh and summery, thanks to that lap steel guitar making an unexpected appearance.

The next part of the record is nothing short of a masterpiece. ‘Pyro’, ‘The Face’ and ‘The Immortals’ see Kings of Leon in their element, and that element is going to have those stadiums securely booked for years to come. ‘Pyro’ has a heart-rending vulnerability as Caleb sings “Bury all the pictures and tell the kids that I’m ok/ even if I’m forgotten you’ll remember me for a day”. ‘The Face’ is a stunning, poignant power ballad, beautifully structured with Caleb’s raw wail and brutal emotion. The chorus is so big and dreamy that it almost instantly becomes a favourite for emotional movie scenes.

‘No Money’ finally fulfils the desperate longing for a faster pace; it has echoes of ‘Camaro’ and the whole spirit of third record Because Of The Times in general. Bassist Jared brings back that distinguished dirty distorted bass that we loved so much in ‘Black Thumbnail’ and ‘Crawl’. In ‘Pony Up’ we get to hear this slick bass unaided in the introduction, something that has become part of the Kings charm. It is soon followed by Matthew’s spine-tingling riff, proving that the Followills haven’t completely lost their touch. Nathan proves his expertise as a talented drummer as he goes all out and seems to be playing four drum beats at the same time. ‘Birthday’, like ‘Radioactive’, has an uplifting feel thanks to its cheeky chorus and lyrics to match. I don’t think Caleb was far off when he mentioned he thinks ‘girls will like it’ in a 6 Music interview with Steve Lamacq. . ‘Mi-Amigo’ grows on me the more I listen to it (but for some reason that guitar hook and bass line have me convinced it’s going to launch into Elton John’s Benny & The Jets any second). Caleb’s unique vocals are laid bare in the stripped back ‘Pickup Truck’, a rarity but delightful one at that. The band revealed that this track was inspired by Thin Lizzy’s ‘Renegade’ and that comes across quite obviously in the introduction.

It’s clear that this album has influences from all over the place, it doesn’t seem to follow suit of their previous efforts and flow in one particular direction. Similarly to Only By The Night, it is full the brim of mammoth rock melodies but they’ve also thrown in some beach feel indie and feel-good country. Talking of country, this is a dominant theme within the record as it seems to centre on tradition and hometown glory. The video for Radioactive alone gives this away but its lyrical content confirms this further: “It’s in the water, it’s in the story, it’s where you came from”. Similarly, ‘The Face’ hears Caleb bestow ‘I’ll give you Tennessee, the only place to be”.

Individually, the tracks are extremely alluring and I admire them for having the guts to experiment with genres, instruments and melodies at a time when mainstream eyes are watching their every move. It’s certainly going to split the fans from the fakers. The magnitude of Only By The Night was staggering and it seems that this has relaxed any intentions to make this new one actually impress people. Instead they have done what they want and this may have caused it to lack another popular sell out single but that’s what’s unique about it. (Let’s face it though; it will sell out regardless because of their gigantic fan base). By the end of this record, hearts have skipped, toes have tapped and eyes have watered; but there is hardly a moment that really gets your whole body rocking out. This is quite unusual for a Kings of Leon record and I can’t help but yearn for a ‘Four Kicks’, ‘Black Thumbnail’ or heaven forbid another ‘Sex On Fire’. They used to be the rulers of fast-pace rock n roll beasts but this time the only song that comes close is ‘No Money’. Now they have become masters of the anthemic, stadium-sized chorus and my god can they produce a good one. Come Around Sundown is certainly more raw and meatier than Only By The Night and that’ exactly what that record lacked. But for some reason even after all that meat, you are still left not quite fully satisfied.

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(photo source: tntmagazine)

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