When the Kings of Leon tore outta Franklin, Tennessee, seven years ago they were hairier than Brian Blessed’s arse-crack.
Singer Caleb Followill’s face-fuzz was so dense that it seemingly prevented him from fully opening his mouth, making his delivery slurred like he’d enjoyed a jug of Uncle Jeb’s most gut-rotting hooch.
And all the time, the rest of the band – the front man’s two brothers, Nathan and Jared, and their cousin, Matthew – played their Southern-boogie garage rock that smacked of young lads who loved boozy brawls and girls in old cotton dresses but had their gazes fixed far beyond their home state.
Critical acclaim was tailed by haircuts and commercial success, and eventually the Kings’ fortunes led to this, their fifth album. It’s the follow-up to the tremendous Only by the Night, which spawned the mega-smash single Sex on Fire and turned the group into stadia-filling bird-crap magnets.
(Earlier this year, the lads abandoned a gig in St Louis, Missouri, after getting liberally splattered with the shite of pigeons in the rafters above the stage.)
Rock music’s finest agonised howl?
Come Around Sundown continues in the same vein as its magnificent predecessor. There’s a darker mood, but there are the same scratching, trilling guitars (like U2 with a pair of deep-fried bulls-balls), detonating drums, threatening bass and surfeit of melody.
And there’s Caleb’s voice. It was alluring from the beginning, and after the gob-inhibiting chin-furniture went bye-bye, the singer got and better and better until finally becoming contemporary rock music’s finest proponent of the agonised howl.
Listen, for instance, to his delivery on Pony Up, a highlight of the album. He lets out an elongated ‘whoa-ho’ with panache, all the while sounding only a note away from throwing a tearful haymaker at whoever’s standing in front of him. Actually, his voice constantly threatens to crack but never does – and that’s what makes it sound damn exciting.
Musically, Come Around Sundown is less head-spinning. It’s has plenty of belting moments – the glam rock vocal harmonies on Mary, the insistent shuffle of Radioactive and, best of all, the faux-country sound of Back Down South – but it’s a little too safe, too slick, in spite of the band’s insistence that this was going to be a grungier work than Only by the Night.
Twangy Back Down South
Grungier, no, but maybe gloomier (“Everything I’ve cherished is slowly dying” is a fairly typical lyric) and too familiar; the boys haven’t advanced like they did from, say, Youth and Young Manhood to Aha Shake Heartbreak. There are exceptions, however, that suggest the Kings are heading in a playful direction.
There’s the twangy Back Down South and there’s Mi Amigo, which pours lusty admiration over a lass who gets Caleb pissed and tells him he’s got “a big ol’ dick”.
So, no masterpiece this time; Come Around Sundown doesn’t rule, but it’s a princely effort.