Kings Of Leon - Come Around Sundown
Rock 'n roll is serious business. Just ask those scruffy Tennessee hunks Kings Of Leon. After a trio of critically and commercially successful albums, each one more polished than the last, they release one of the biggest albums of 2008, Only By The Night. It sold by the truckload and gave them number ones, Grammies, Brits, wealth, fame, groupies, better drugs and a big fat albatross around their necks.
Because now they are stuck with performing two of their biggest hits for all of eternity: 'Sex On Fire' and 'Use Somebody'; songs they have since claimed they wrote as "a joke". But like Robbie Williams and his 'Angels' and MGMT and their 'Kids', those two songs, and the slick album that spawned them, have now become the gold standard against which their legion of fans will judge them.
Trouble is, they don't like those fans very much. The fans who scream for 'Sex On Fire', they ain't "f*cking cool". KoL want respect again, they want to be cool again. How do you do that? Regain your reputation and still keep the fans who made you rich, happy? Can't be easy - and listening to their new album it seems the boys don't have the answer either.
Come Around Sundown isn't bad. In fact, coming from any other band not carrying so much Louis Vuitton baggage around it would probably appear even better. The bad news is that there aren't any stand-out hits like 'Sex On Fire' or 'Use Somebody'. The good news is that there aren't any stand-out hits like 'Sex On Fire' or 'Use Somebody'. Despite the band saying they were going back to the grungier sound of their earlier releases the album is still glossy smooth and not a little bit soulless. There are some high points though. No, it's not first single 'Radioactive' which sounds like an outtake from the last album; it's third song in, 'Pyro' - moody, lovely, taking its time and not caring as much about the "awesome riffage", but concentrating instead on atmosphere, feeling, honesty, elements severely lacking in KoL's music of late. When Caleb plaintively sings "I won't ever be your cornerstone", you get the feeling he that he's not just singing to some long lost love. Last song, 'Pickup Truck' is another little gem, one of the rare moments that feels like the band actually mean what they're playing. The edgy music keeps the tension in check and spurs Caleb's molasses vocals along. The melody is lonely, brooding, lost and uncertain. Unfortunately, betwixt moments like these have the watery blues of 'Mary' (which someone like George Thorogood could make mincemeat out of) and the schmaltzy 'The Face', which makes you wonder if the band aren't playing another one of their little 'jokes' on you again.
Who to please? That is Kings Of Leon's great dilemma. Do they please the old fans, the ones who turned away in disgust at the crass commercialization the band had embraced? The new fans? Uncool maybe, but buying their albums by the pickup truck full? The critics? Who deride them and dismiss them as sell outs? It's a shame that KoL can't just say "f*ck it" and please themselves. They would probably make a much better album.