Kings of Leon is a Grammy winning American rock band that formed in Nashville, Tennessee in 1999. The band is composed of brothers Anthony Caleb Followill (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ivan Nathan Followill (drums, percussion,backing vocals) and Michael Jared Followill (bass guitar, backing vocals), with their cousin Cameron Matthew Followill (lead guitar, backing vocals). The band’s early music was an upbeat blend of Southern rock and blues influences, but it has gradually expanded throughout the years to include a variety of genres and a more alternative, arena rock sound.
Kings of Leon hit it big in 2008 with their album Only by the Night and the accompanying one-two punch of singles Sex on Fire and Use Somebody. The success of those singles propelled them into the upper echelon of arena rock bands and found them at a crossroads between the post-punk-influenced sound of their previous albums and the anthemic, U2-influenced approach that they’d begun to explore on Only by the Night. Perhaps not surprisingly, the band’s follow-up, 2010’s Come Around Sundown, while by no means a disappointment, seemed strained, as if the band was trying too hard to balance its early sound with its later hits, all while digging even deeper into its Southern roots. Which is partly why the band’s sixth studio album, 2013’s Mechanical Bull, comes as sweet relief. While still retaining Kings of Leon’s penchant toward bombastic, hooky choruses and driving guitars, Mechanical Bull feels breezier and less labored than Come Around Sundown. Even the title feels like a cheeky double entendre that references both the band’s Southern upbringing (lead singer Caleb Followill and his bandmate siblings were raised in Oklahoma and Tennessee) and the gear-like machinations of the rock industry. Almost exactly a decade after their debut Youth & Young Manhood Kings Of Leon’s sixth brings a somewhat rejuvenated sense of interest in the band. Youth & Young Manhood’s vivacity was somewhat absent in 2010’s supersized Come Around Somedown so its anniversary has provoked return visits and an assured hope that their belly fires are still burning.
Mechanical Bull is more instantly enjoyable than its predecessor – it’s less earnest, with clearer dynamics between dark and light in its varied rhythms, tones and personal touches Where ‘…Sundown’ eased in with the sombre The End, here we’re slapped in the face with the immediacy of first single Supersoaker: a ripping and relentless bounder that’s urged on by Caleb Followill’s serrated vocals. Caleb’s whoops and squeals in the first seconds of Rock City, a frisky paean to the refuge of the Kings’ hometown Nashville, and the excitable scream during the count-in to the storming Stooges-like Don’t Matter evokes the fun clearly enjoyed by the band in the album’s creation – perhaps in contrary to the foreboding shadow of pressure that 2008’s Only By The Night cast over ‘…Sundown’. There’s less at stake here, and their relief is palpable.
Respite echoes throughout: The Cure-like Temple and the shimmering Wait For Me suggest absolution through hurt. “I take one in the temple / I take one for you,” goes the former, while the latter warns: “Take a shot in the rain / One for the pain / And listen up.” Elsewhere, the brilliant Comeback Story centres around an empathic realisation: “I walk a mile in your shoes / And now I’m a mile away / And I’ve got your shoes.” Family Tree is the album’s irresistible highlight. It starts with Nathan and Jared’s driving funk rhythm – dark yet entrancing, just like Caleb’s vocals, which are double-tracked with a normal range countered by a low, rumbling growl. The song’s Zutons-like chorus will be this album’s enduring legacy (especially live, with the breakdown and handclaps), so best memorise it now: “I am your family tree / I know your A to Z / This is a secret proposition / Lay your hands on me.” The contrasting paces of Coming Back Again (hard, fast, ’80s rock) and closer On The Chin (laidback country-infused reflections) attest to the group’s high spirits.
Mechanical Bull may not be as wild as its makers’ debut, but it’s definitely as determined. A strong, engaging return to form, Mechanical Bull is made to ride. Strap in and enjoy.
Essential Tracks: Supersoaker, Wait for Me, Temple, Family Tree, and Tonight
You can listen to the album on Spotify using the following link:
Supersoaker Video Link: