With relatively little fanfare,
Tennessee's London's favourite sons the Kings of Leon are back with Only By The Night - their fourth long player in 5 years, and a mere 18 months since the barn-storming Because Of The Times. I'm not sure why that merits a mention, but in a world where The Verve just ambled out number four it seems prolific - particularly when The Kings seem to have spend the last 18 months playing Brixton or Hammersmith every other week. However, next to The Doors (6 in 5 years), Led Zeppelin (8 for 10) or even The Beatles (13 for 7) that shouldn't really be something to write home about.
Moody opener Closer starts the album, before grungey lead 'free download' Crawl does little more than offer an introduction to the band's new fuzz-drenched sound. In contrast, actual single Sex On Fire provides the most obvious link to the band's previous successful formula, as Caleb Followill wails over great drums and moody guitars about being seemingly double-crossed by another Black Hearted Woman. As usual, it's a formula that works - producing perhaps the most succesful song on the album.
Although the band are claiming to be 'ready to tackle their southern roots again', this album is even more of a departure from their original sound - a transition mirrored perfectly with their beards getting shorter and jeans getting tighter. The lyrics and story-telling here seem more and more detached from the band's image - and stories of life on the wrong side of the tracks, ramblin' in the desert and calling 'shotgun' with some hot fresher just don't reconcile with the dude I've been seeing in the gossip columns, hanging out in VIP London hotspots with famous rock-star daughters.
17 starts off like it's their contribution to a Now Christmas! album, as Caleb croons "She's only 17...!" , while the cowbell heavy I Want You, or dragged out soft-rock anthem of Cold Desert seem to match the Hill Valley sentiment of "I'm gonna be somebody!" - with added 80's rock producton that would have graced a Bon Jovi ballad. Manhatten echoes the sentiment with "Gonna show this town!" and you start to feel like there's a confidence crisis going on somewhere. Surely they are somebody by now? Or maybe this is all about the band's still relative lack of success stateside - and NME hasn't made it to Tennessee yet.
With these guys, rather than having a new album's worth of great material it seems like perhaps a shift of branding might be the cause of the quick turnaround - as the band try and play the credibility card and crack the elusive US market, where they still only sell around 200,000 copies per album. The result is unfortunately a strange mix of too much effort and not trying hard enough.