While Kings of Leon enjoyed massive success overseas prior to 2008, the rock act only made its dent in America with the release of their last “Only by the Night.” And it was then, by the strength of “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire,” that they were propelled to arena and festival headliner status, a macho stomp that took them all the way to the Grammy podium in early 2009.
Now in 2010, all eyes are on the Kings, and what their answer to their success would be. The result, on “Come Around Sundown” is an audible “thanks” and an inaudible shrug “what?”.
See, before “Only by the Night,” there was 2007″s excellent “Because of the Times,” chock-full of rock experiments, non-solos, Caleb Followill”s sonorous bark sometimes whittled to a delicate deliverer. And way-way before that there was “Youth & Young Manhood,” with its garage rock meeting the South, the result of this family band”s Tennessee upbringing.
“Sundown” has a combination of all those, but it”s not the straight-forward rock record that “Only by the Night” was.
It begins with “The End,” with a forlorn ride cymbal heralding Followill the Singer”s musing, “This could be the end.” Its chorus is shoegaze gone mainstream, a motif that occurs, too, in “Mary,” combining with ’50s girl group feel and a structure that probably never intended for the song to be as loud as it is.
Addictive first single “Radioactive” is the closest this set gets to the rock radio, though not in the same way “Use Somebody” ever did. Southern and gospel music reiterate where exactly this group “came from,” as emphasized by the band”s curious video
. The pilgrimage continues in “Pyro,” with some Christ-like imagery that our lead singer won”t be anyone”s “cornerstone.”
The four-piece tinkers with various sonic devices on “The Immortals” and “Beach Side,” the former coupling Followill”s siren wail with a couple of seventh chords and the latter with the lighter touch of – could it be? – Sea and Cake-y guitar patterns.
They go right back to their general rockers like on “The Face” and “No Money,” lacking a bit in ingenuity and a solid hook or handle. Still, the ears perk up with a dark Southwestern swirl in “Mi Amigo,” surprisingly one of the strongest tracks on the set. In an abundance of otherwise abstract lyrics, Followill attempts to make a linear narrative out of a drunken and stoned night out, his drug of choice acting like his lady love. Hilariously, the band dollops sweet harmonies over crude lyrics like “[She] showers me in boozes / tells me I got a big ol” d*ck / and she wants my ass home / to sing a song,” heavy-lidded and giggling.
KOL closes the lid by bringing in the ’90s, which appear in that chunky, guitar-faced bass in “Pickup Truck.” They take a minimalist approach to accompaniment letting the voice crack in a happy accident, restrained until those last choruses in an expected instrumental pile-on, the high hats and snare openening up and a hoarse piano getting the underwater reverb treatment.
As implied by its title, “Sundown” gets dark and hints at getting darker, barely ending the way it started. Recorded in New York but boasting of those serene palms on its cover, the album seems to thrive on the unexpected, which may satisfy some and not others. Its variety is appreciated, consciously thwarting the kind of Big Rock that finally put the band on the albums chart — not that it can do anything can stop from success now.
“Come Around Sundown” is out today (Oct. 19).