Album Review: Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown

By on Tuesday, 2nd November 2010 at 12:00 pm
 

It will come as no surprise to anyone who read my reviews of their live show or most recent single, ‘Radioactive,’ that I’m a huge fan of Nashville rockers Kings of Leon. So with their latest offering, ‘Come Around Sundown’ – their fifth studio album in seven years – I expected great things. And though some will surely still complain that they don’t sound like they did on their first few albums, I think they’ve succeeded in creating a sound that is truly spectacular.

Lesser bands, having seen the success garnered with stadium-rock mega-hits like ‘Use Somebody’ or ‘Sex on Fire,’ would’ve attempted to re-create the sound exactly. The Followill boys, however, have yet again taken the risk of evolving their sound. As frontman Caleb explains, “On this album, we were experimenting a little more, and wanted to show our countrier side at times, and our throwback side, and wanted to give people like a brief history of what Kings of Leon have been tryin’ to achieve all the while.” Adding instruments like piano, horns and fiddles, and even employing choirs, they’ve definitely made some changes to their sound,  but especially with Caleb’s soulful, distinctive voice, they still sound unmistakably like Kings of Leon.

One track that really exemplifies this is ‘Back Down South.’ Originally called ‘Southbound,’ it is one of the most special moments on the record. It’s got a very organic feel to it, and a sound that’s so home-y it almost makes you nostalgic. In the recording process, they even got the crew involved in the backing vocals, and you can really feel the comradery. Listening to the song, you can easily imagine yourself in a bar down south, just knocking back a few beers with the band, and this vibe spills out into the “hootin’ and hollerin'” at the end of the song.  Drummer Nathan Followill said “I was glad for a song like [‘Back Down South’] to make this record because we coulda so easily gone in there and give them 6 Sex on Fires and 6 Uses Somebodys, and it was good to see [it] on there because that was us kinda going back to not only our roots, as where we’re from, but the kind of band we’ve been since day one!”

And no song really captures their Southern roots like “Pickup Truck” – a song about a man fighting another man who’s  trying to get the same woman. It features amazing vocals from Caleb which really stand out in the verses, but blend in during the chorus when the music really picks up. As he sings, “Hate to be so emotional / I didn’t mean to get physical / But when he pulled in and revved it up / I said you call that a pickup truck? / And in the moonlight I fought him down / All? kickin screamin & rolling around / A little piece of a bloody tooth /Just so you know I was thinkin of you / Just so you know,” Caleb’s voice perfectly captures the yearning he has to impress her.

Many of the songs on ‘Come Around Sundown’ seem more laid-back than much of their past material, perhaps explaining why Nathan originally described the album as ‘beachy.’  But while in places the sound is less “raw” and edgy, the emotion is just as raw as ever. And this emotion really comes through on the album because they’re more concerned with emotion than with perfection, so they play as much as they can live, and allow the imperfections that give a song character. Their commitment to this authenticity is even more impressive when you consider songs like ‘Pony Up,’ where the dizzying amount of percussion — drums, shakers, cowbell and tambourine — is all played simultaneously by Nathan.

Their skill as musicians is clear, but when they combine it with personal and emotional lyrics, the effect is really sensational. Two stand-out tracks are ‘Mary,’ which Caleb wrote about his feelings when his brother, Nathan, moved out and got married, and ‘Immortals.’ The lyrics of this song are profound, and are something which Caleb said he wanted to be able to tell his kids. After the verses, the bottom drops out of the song for an absolutely massive chorus: “Spill out on the streets of stars, and ride away / Find out what you are, face to face / Once you’ve had enough, carry on / Don’t forget to love, before you’re gone.”

As always with Kings of Leon, some of the best moments on the album are also the most playful. The most unhinged of all the tracks is probably ‘No Money,’ where Jared uses the fuzz pedal to really dirty the bass up, Caleb growls and pleads with the vocals, and the drums and guitar race each other through the song. The spectacular ‘Mi Amigo,’ a song about drugs, rather fittingly has a very lilting rhythm and arresting lyrics sung almost drunkenly: “I’ve got a friend /helps me to get up again / showers me in bruises / Tells me I got a big ‘ol dick / and she wants my ass home,’ It’s the perfect example of form and content fitting together.

With ‘Come Around Sundown,’ Kings of Leon have succeeded where many other bands fail. They’ve remained true to themselves while still evolving their sound, and didn’t fall into the trap of trying to recreate their biggest hits. And as always, they make it look easy, as if they’ve just rolled out of the bar and into the studio to lay down the track on the fly, when in reality they’ve been working on some of the tracks for years. Truly the best album of the year so far.

9.5/10

‘Come Around Sundown’ is available now. Kings of Leon will be hitting the UK for an arena tour in May and June of next year, as well as 6 dates this December.

Watch the ‘making of’ video for their single ‘Radioactive’ below:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH5WvYZO8GI[/youtube]

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