Release Date: Sep 23, 2008
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
When, exactly, did classic rock become fashionable again? Whatever the tipping point was, we now, officially, approve of Kid Rock reviving 'Sweet Home Alabama', the Hold Steady reviving 'Born to Run'-era Springsteen, and men all over Britain reviving the right to play air guitar in public places. All that's missing in this entertaining glorification of the pleasures of cock-rock is a big, American major label rawk! album that boogies, choogles, howls at the moon and does it all with an absolutely straight face, no irony intended, no guilt entertained. Cue the return of Kings of Leon, who, right from the get-go, were surely the band born to bring Proper Rock out of the spandex-clad Darkness and into a more dapper light.
Unless your name is Justin Timberlake, calling a song ”Sex on Fire,” as Kings of Leon do on their latest set of scruffy Southern-fried garage rock, is a pretty risky move. Of course, these Tennessee lads’ backwoods-beefcake vibe has always obscured how nervy their music ?can be: Throughout Only by the Night, frontman Caleb Followill wails forlornly about cheap thrills and true love while his two brothers (and a cousin) bash? out spooky, raw-edged riffs that rarely go where you expect them to. The highlight is ”Use Somebody,” ? a too-cool hipster’s cry for comfort.
Like many big-sounding albums, Only by the Night is a polarizing piece of work, one that targets new fans at the expense of those who wish Kings of Leon had never shaved their beards or discovered post-'70s rock. To rope in the skeptics, the strongest tracks are pushed toward the album's first half. "Crawl" flexes the band's rock & roll muscle, melding Led Zeppelin-styled crunch with the experimental guitar buzz of U2's Achtung Baby, while "Sex on Fire" makes up for its goofy title with a meteoric chorus tailored to Caleb's voice.
Even if Noel Gallagher hadn't decided to treat the nation to another display of the musical broad-mindedness that's made Oasis's output so giddily eclectic, there might still have been controversy over this year's Glastonbury headliners. Rather than Jay-Z's appearance on the Pyramid Stage, which so alarmed Gallagher, questions might have been asked about the Friday night: precisely when did the Kings of Leon become big enough to headline a festival? On arrival in 2003, had they looked any more like a firework band, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents would have insisted you keep their CDs in a biscuit tin and ensure pets were indoors before playing them. They had all the attributes: a perfectly honed sound that drew on classic rock influences, a carefully cultivated image, and an exotic back-story.
This is the album in which the hirsute Kings of Leon finally loan out their sound to an Editors-ready arena crowd. Throw an audience track in the background and Only by the Night could be their Rattle and Hum. Essentially a funhouse mirror of 2007's far superior Because of the Times, Only by the Night stumbles under the weight of its ambitions by lacking the songs necessary to support them.
Can someone please remind me again why people like Kings of Leon? It might have been their first two albums of Strokes-meets-Lynyrd Skynyrd rock, or the fact that the three Followill brothers rebelled against their preacher dad by embracing the devil's music. But whatever got them here has long been left behind. Their new disc, Only By The Night, picks up where their more experimental, U2-ish Because Of The Times left off, which, unfortunately, isn't a good thing.
Three LPs and a pair of EPs since 2003, and now with their fourth album, Kings of Leon have upgraded from vintage Camaro to Hummer. Only by the Night sounds every bit Achtung Baby, but confirms suspicions about individuals who would drive such a vehicle. Opener "Closer" strobes a sonic upgrade to the Tennessee quartet initially hailed as one-third trinity of Southern rock's renaissance.