The Musical Progression of Kings of Leon

May 27, 2014
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In summer 2003 I became aware of a new band from the U.S. I was attending a festival and opening one of the mid-sized stages was a band I hadn’t really heard of. They were from Tennessee, and they instantly blew me away.

At the time, rock and roll was in transition. In the UK, there was a comedown from the Brit Pop era and while bands like Coldplay and Muse were taking their place on the world stage, it was for some a little bland and melancholy for their tastes.

A few years earlier The Strokes had brought a high-energy mix of rock and punk that had evolved from bands like The Ramones. There were also hi-tempo, but lyrically sound, tunes – not dissimilar to ska in root.

This was cool and well received but my tastes are a little slower, with more rock and roll and less punk anger, and at the time there were very few artists sustaining my want. Then on this small, tented stage I heard the base tracks for what would prove to be a very important album. The group was Kings of Leon; the album was Youth, Young and Manhood.

You could feel influences that were apparent, but this four-piece was still fresh and new and at least something that hadn’t been seen for a generation.

These three brothers, and a cousin from the South, with apparent biblical roots, were telling stories of such resonance and belief of their time and area and background, it was incredible. Songs of dreams and hopes and a certain arrogance that comes with youth, but the fact these kids were still teenagers made it quite amazing. Standout tunes like Red Morning light, Molly’s Chamber, Holy Roller Novocaine and California Waiting were brilliantly executed; the group had hit the ground running in terms of their sound. Rough, raw singing, passionate and enthusiastic guitar delivery and a fully beyond competent drumbeat through out… It was exciting, and fresh and eclectic, but was it a one off?

2004 saw the release of Aha Shake Heartbreak and, as you hope with any band worth their salt, it was progression. It truly was. The sound had evolved and was still feeling new and moving forward, but the ability to write a distinctive and memorable tune with lyrics had not diminished in the slightest. In fact it is safe to say that this aspect had also matured. See tracks like So Night, So Long, The Bucket and Milk to see point in hand.

The group was two for two.

Because of the Times in 2007 was a further progression still, and although in my opinion it was not as distinctive and original as the first two albums, it was indeed still a step forward in music and discovery, McFearless and Black Thumbnail being two of the better offerings in this outing.

Relentless touring and supporting had kept KoL on the road and in the public eye almost, it seemed, from day one and this proved key in the production of the next album.

Only By The Night featured not only wonderfully crafted and written tunes, there also seemed to be the sort of writing that bore the consideration of arena audiences in mind. This album is a great listen and worthy of repeat playing, but mood and location, like all music, will determine how this is received. Many elements of this record seem more obvious when thousands of people in a hot, dark, sweaty auditorium are singing along, at the top of their voices, with a band that’s enjoying huge success.

That is not to say this album shows a band resting on its laurels, far from it, in fact. KoL continued to push the envelope of “their sound” and songwriting, while at the same time appreciating their dedication to life on the road and giving live audiences as much enjoyment as someone playing their records at home, with tracks like Sex on Fire, Use Somebody and Crawl. Definitely the best effort to date.

Therein lies the problem. Come Around Sundown, their next album, was nothing new. Sure, there were some great tracks… but nothing really you might point to as progression. Mechanical Bull was a step in the right direction but had elements that, to me, were suggestive of artists who were trying to re-find their feet or recapture an old successful formula.

Kings Of Leon’s next album will, for this fan, be very, very telling indeed.

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