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First impressions of a new record can be tricky, especially when it's by a band coming off an artistic high. Have previous marks been hit? Has new ground been broken? And most importantly, if the group is indeed going somewhere new, are their footsteps ones we want to follow?
A maiden spin of Kings Of Leon's Come Around Sundown reveals a wealth of aural surprises, many of them confounding but all enthralling. Past producers Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King are credited as boardsmen here, but the fingerprints could have been David Lynch's, because, much like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr, this is a difficult work to comprehend - and impossible to shake.
With 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood, KOL were pegged as red-headed stepchildren to The Strokes - the ‘Southern Strokes’ they were even called - a gang of horny hicks escaping their Pentecostal past and glomming onto the de rigueur life of wine, women and song. Their hayseed backstory and quasi-garage rock seemed somehow novel and provided the narrative for critics to romanticize them.
Musically, they progressed wobbly at first, gradually taking on an experimental approach before going warp-speed with the atmospherics on the anthem-heavy juggernaut Only By The Night, which only earned them a new tag - the ‘Southern U2' (talk about your 800-pound gorillas!). This latter description, however, is more apt, for the Nashville-based quartet are now confidently, brazenly strutting down the same corridor of sonic exploration where those four Irish upstarts once stood guard.
In hindsight, the Southern label never seemed to fit Kings Of Leon. Despite their authentic heritage, swamp water didn’t seep from their pores. Any band can sing about whiskey, the female form and all the trouble they bring, but not every group can hoedown and hootenanny, and in trying for the latter KOL came across a stiff, sullen wallflowers at their own dance.
Weirdness, however, suits them, so much so that the crazier they get, shedding practically all musical references (and lyrical ones, too - sometimes one never knows what Caleb Followill is wailing about, which might be the point), the better they are. Just five albums into their career, they may be the most genuine and least self-conscious band working today. They’re downright nutty on Come Around Sundown, with beautifully bizarre guitar riffs and mysterious chords popping out of nowhere for no reason on songs that initially make little sense at all.
They don’t play together so much as they collide, creating spectacle and grandeur, and that impact causes a visceral reaction: suddenly, your pulse quickens, your mind races, and everything makes perfect sense. All of which begs the question: Why would we have KOL be any other way?