Kings of Leon's Only By The Night
On my first listen to the Kings of Leon, I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed. It wasn't that they were bad. They just didn't strike me in a lasting way. You know how sometimes the moment or context in which you hear a band makes a difference in how you view or think about or feel about that band? You could say the first time I heard the Kings of Leon, at least the first time that mattered, was surrounded by a case of context, or rather, a lack there of.
As is occasionally wont to happen, however, another time came when it was of use to me to hear Kings of Leon. And maybe even listen to them. Of course, it was because of a girl. She recommended I check the band out. So I bought the first album that broke them to a large audience, Aha Shake Heartbreak. I gave it a spin in my car, but again wasn't very struck by any lasting impression. I was told by my lady friend, however, to try their latest, Only by the Night.
This time, something clicked.
It may have been the two songs she recommended, that we listened to on the way home from dinner, "Notion" and "Sex On Fire." It may have been her. Hell, who knows. For whatever reason, I got it, finally.
My first impression was that this band had found some cross section of .38 Special, U2, and white-boy Stones soul. The sound of Only by the Night is recognizable, familiar to a fan of rock and roll. The singer's voice recalls someone, I'm not sure who, and that might be the point - it's familiar enough to sound comfortable, and different enough to sound engaging.
The album kicks off with "Closer," a song that reminds me musically of something R.E.M. would have done on New Adventures In The Hi-Fi, and I mean that in a good way (it reminds me a bit of the siren call keyboard wail present in "Leave" from that album). The guitars echo U2 (pun intended) and singer Caleb Followill does his best soul impressions. "Crawl" harkens back to later-era Led Zep, funky and a bit synthy-sounding. The album's first outstanding track is it's third one, though: "Sex On Fire."
The opening, off-kilter guitar notes turn into a funky, danceable rhythm that drives the song forward to it's first anthemic chorus. Wailed vocals couple with the driving rhythms and reverb-drenched guitars that soar in the way that the best work from The Edge does. The lyrics match, vaguely describing sex in an open, echoing kind of way, capturing more the feeling of being wrapped up in someone physically than the physical sex acts one might perform or experience during the process. This anthemic quality continues on the next track, "Use Somebody." It's apparent that the Kings deliberately continued their shift from garage rock to a more accessible sound, but that sound serves them very well, especially on "Use Somebody." It may be dipping far too shamelessly into the U2 well, but that matters little when the results sound this good. "Use Somebody" builds on the quality of "Sex On Fire" with a thunderous, rousing torchsong. The lyrics are again vague, but to great effect here - the lack of detail makes the song easy to relate to, easy to get cozy with. Everyone can connect with the feeling of wanting someone, and further needing to feel wanted. The song mixes things up appropriately with a small bridge and a nice, if basic, guitar solo - again, the kind of fret work you'd expect from the Edge - before closing out the song.
The rest of the album follows these trends. There's little to match them to their garage roots, and more to point towards modern contemporaries like Coldplay, just with less keyboards/piano. This strikes me as odd, now, given my initial .38 Special comparison, which seems kind of knee-jerk after repeated listens.
What may speak loudly for the universal enjoyment of the record, though, may be this: a colleague of mine (from my day/real job) has recently become intranced with the band's music, particularly Only by the Night. Of course, it's because of a boy (and no, certainly not me). Some sweet something passed her a copy of the record. She listened and fell in love. Now our office, a large room with several cubicles, is filled daily with the sounds of Kings of Leon, sometimes hearing this most recent record two or three times in one day. I quickly passed my co-worker Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times, in hopes of getting some variety mixed in. To wit, that hasn't happened yet, but that still hasn't dulled my interest and enjoyment in the band.
So if someone with complete opposite tastes than mine can get into it, it's got to be good, right? There are other great songs on the record, particularly "Revelry," "Notion," and "Be Somebody" and "Cold Desert," the tracks that aptly close the album. Only by the Night has a certain coldness to it - the wet, swampy reverb sound of Pink Floyd, just icier at times. Thankfully, it also has a bit of old school warmth to it, as well, in the soulful vocals as well as obvious classical (as in classic rock) elements of the music. If you wanted to listen to the Kings of Leon, this is the album to get. It's an enjoyable and at times moving listen, and far more deserving of the damning review websites like Pitchfork gave it. Yes, Kings of Leon may be a trendy pick of hipsters everywhere, but they ruin everything - just don't let them ruin your appreciation of a fine album by a truly good band.