Although many bands have a far more pedestrian schedule, Because Of The Times seems like a long time coming - with the Kings of Leon taking a casual 3 years to follow up their last record. Debut Youth and Young Manhood was 2003, Aha Shake Heartbreak came in 2004 - with only the measly Day Old Belgian Blues EP offered to fill the gap. Forget that non-starter though, as they are back with a top quality album - and they are suffering from a heavy does of 'Awesome Third Album Syndrome'.
With Knocked Up, things start with a track pretty much guaranteed to tick a few boxes with me. 7 minute opening tracks have a habit of appearing on some of my all-time favourites - At Least That's What She Said being the most obvious example. It shows that a band have a certain confidence in their sound and are happy to turn the rules on their head, and in this instance it's a confidence that is well placed. The moody bass line sets the scene for the slow build up to the inevitable unleashing of guitars that does not disappoint.
The sound on this album is stripped down and bare - working in all the right places with the minimum of fluff and fan-fare. Caleb Followill lets his wild instinct take over as his unrestrained screeches confidently lead the band into edgy territory on Charmer, while the wall of guitars on McFearless are surely destined for a back-lit, smoke machine filled arena - complete with strobe lightling. Although the sound seems less 70's American than before (I never could quite pin down exactly who) it does have a more distinct sound of it's own here, as well as pulling in a wider range of influences - with even a touch of Police reggae on Ragoo. The heavy bass-line of My Party, or the Edge style guitars of True Love Way and Arizona are accompanied throughout by superb drum lines that could have been lifted from Sunday Bloody Sunday.
There are also quite a few brat-pack-80s-prom overtones that work well, adding a well placed bit of nostalgia to tracks like True Love Way and giving the band a bit more of a grounding in the same popular culture as the rest of us - rather than the mythical 70's vibe that they seemed to have on their previous records.
While their own style vs substance ratio was never in question, marketing-wise the Kings of Leon have often been lumped in with the likes of The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs in that play-all-the-festivals-but-somehow-not-taken-all-that-seriously-category, as their relative lack of success in their homeland shows (noted on Fans). Hopefully this album will move them in the public eyes away from the hype and into the serious camp - with the likes of Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Radiohead.
This is the first album in ages that actually feels like a complete work to me - perhaps even more so than their own previous efforts. A good album should play out like a good career - cracking debut (Knocked Up), a solid couple of tracks with some experimental touches (Charmer, On Call), then a track that takes what has been learned and puts it to awesome effect (McFearless). The album is full of hearty meat and potatoes with the centre forming a solid core to the album, capturing the mood and tone of the record as a whole.
It's already an easy contender for album of the year (about the 4th contender so far I think and it's only March), and should prove to age even better that Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak. They may not be as old and grizzly as they sound, but the Kings are certainly maturing with age.