By Jack Tuthill
Take a deep breath alternative rock fans, Kings of Leon are back after three long years.
It seems like ages since their fifth album, “Come Around Sundown,” landed in 2010. That album unsatisfactorily sold 710,000 copies, one third of what 2008’s “Only by the Night” bagged.
Arguably the world’s most popular band at the time struggled in the face of adversity and did what many bands before them had done: got drunk, popped pills, cancelled tours and split up.
The three brothers and their cousin welcomed the time off. The group that brought us “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” now consider themselves underdogs heading into their sixth album “Mechanical Bull,” which hit stores Tuesday.
“Come Around Sundown” was not a failure in my eyes. In fact, it is one of their finer albums. The band’s unrealistic expectations were too lofty; Kings of Leon will never be able to top “Only by the Night,” a fact they refused to comprehend.
Lead singer Caleb Followill ambitiously wants to make music that his daughter will be proud of. He is seriously underestimating the band’s body of work. The Kings’ have serious range, a multiplicity of sounds and catchy, witty lyrics. With that being said, the overall tone of their music has changed and the days of selling out the O2 Arena in London are likely over.
“Mechanical Bull” could not get off to a better start as the album begins with its best track, “Supersoaker.” The album’s first single has a prototypical Kings of Leon buzz. The track features the best vocals and rhythm on the album. Tambourines, a slow jazzy guitar, and a terrific buildup to a guitar solo should grab listeners’ attention.
Are the Kings able to keep this momentum throughout the entire album? Not quite, but despite a lull in the middle, “Mechanical Bull” works as a good compliment to 2010’s “Come Around Sundown.”
One of the real treasures on the album is “Tonight.” Heavy vocals and an incendiary guitar resonance will have you craving for more. The track is reminiscent of “The Immortals” or “Be Somebody,” which is unquestionably a good thing. A screaming Followill proclaims, “Tonight, gonna leave my body!” I find myself going back to this track, time and time again.
“Rock City” is one of the odder tracks on the album, but clearly one of the best. Kings of Leon have never been shy of reinventing their sound with previous songs such as “Charmer” or “Mary.” Interestingly, “Rock City” has a real 70s rock feel. It is catchy, sexual, and way too short.
Fans of their first two albums “Youth and Young Manhood” and “Aha Shake Heartbreak” will fall in love with “Don’t Matter.” It is regrettably brief, failing to reach three minutes, but is fast, foul, and fun. This type of track does not exist on the previous two mainstream albums. There are some killer guitar licks that any rock and roll fan can appreciate here.
“Mechanical Bull” does have its issues, as “Family Tree” and “Temple” are problematic, dull, and among their worst material to date. The songs are generic and offer unusually weak lyrics. “Family Tree” is a country song, plain and simple, and I take issue with that. “Back Down South,” a track off “Come Around Sundown,” is a good example of a country song can be created with rhythm, reason, and soul.
Another major failure of the album is its conclusion. Kings of Leon enthusiasts have become accustomed to extraordinarily superior songs finalizing each album. Their previous five grand finales “Holy Roller Novocaine,” “Rememo,” “Arizona,” “Cold Desert” and “Pickup Truck” are all lethal. Unfaithfully, Mechanical Bull ends with “On the Chin,” a slow, simple song unable to stack up its predecessors.
The album is more hit than miss, but does not live up to the Kings’ lofty expectations. Followill claims he “pretty much checked out” while making this album, but is heard rejoicing “I can feel it coming back again” on the fittingly titled track “Coming Back Again.” Funny, I would have no issue if you were to “check out” of your next album, sir.