Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: Kings of Leon - Only By The Night

There are few bands with as deep a mystique as Kings of Leon. Three sons of a preacher and their cousin playing the devil’s music, that’s how they get summed up. They’ve gone through a critically acclaimed debut, an acclaimed deepening of style on a follow-up, and an epic, daunting third record. Amid all the alleged drug use, promiscuous sex, and rehab the group has gone through, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that their newest foray, Only By The Night, is a record properly absorbed in a candlelit room with a partner.

With the exception of “Sex on Fire”, which plays like a very good, if significantly less metaphoric or subtle, companion piece to “Molly’s Chambers”, the entire record plays like different variations of rock slow jams. It’s like southern-fried rock mixed with R&B. They still maintain that air of classic southern rock, and they’re not breaking new sonic ground with this stuff, but nobody’s ever accused Kings of Leon of being forward-thinking. They’re not revolutionaries, they’re just really good at what they do.

Their sound occupies more space this time around, with voices echoing off into the air and guitars lingering in reverb. His voice is much less of a growl or a drawl and more of a croon, especially in songs like the verses of “Use Somebody.” You keep waiting for the band to kick the tempo up a notch, but it never comes, and you never seem to mind. They’ve slowed their songs down and made them very night-friendly.

They’ve always been overtly sexual, even when including religious imagery. Just take a look at the song titles (“I Want You”, “Sex on Fire”, “Use Somebody”). “17” is dripping with Lolita-esque eroticism as it ponders an underage sexpot (eerily similar to “15” by Rilo Kiley, albeit from a first person perspective instead of third). There aren’t may loud come-ons, just slow burning croons that seduce over time, it’s a delayed release of lust over the course of forty-five minutes.

The album is calm, contemplative, but still contains a layer of erotic tension. His voice, no matter how quavering, always has an air of desire. I can see a ton of these songs being used over sex scenes in indie movies for years. It’s a really solid record from beginning to end, even if there aren’t really any popping singles besides “Sex on Fire”. Only By The Night works as an album, played all the way through during the night, and as a very atmospheric work it succeeds greatly.

A lot of odd things were said about Kings of Leon through their early years. They got unfairly and inexplicably compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd for being a good rock band from the south, and were allegedly virgins on their first tour; but four albums in, they’ve established themselves as a very strong force in rock. This album saw the exploration of a completely new kind of sound within their parameters, and it begs excitement for whatever direction the band chooses to go in next.

Kings of Leon – “Sex On Fire”

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