Monday, October 18, 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town

It's like Christmas Eve, really.

Tomorrow is the (official) North American release of Kings of Leon's fifth studio album, Come Around Sundown. And let me tell you, the Kings are one step closer to rock royalty. I spent the last month or so doing the (shameful and) obvious, searching for early leaks of the new stuff - stopping to snack on tid-bits and appetizers of whatever I could find. After hanging up my music website vulture shoes, I finally got ahold of the whole leak about a week and a half ago, and an interesting week and a half it's been.

Now, I'm really not sure where to begin. I suppose Sundown is a natural progression in the Kings timeline. The Followill boys, all raised under a strict Southern Baptist roof (and equally as strict "no rock n' roll" reign) sneak out and form a rock band. In a nutshell, it was the beginning of a musical journey filled with defying Daddy's word and mixing nightly drinks of sin and deliverance from a suffocating upbringing. The music is dirty, real and everything about it scorches like the Tennessee South that the Followill boys call home. Several albums proceed to be churned out - and it's real rock and roll. The songs are raunchy and raw, featuring growling guitars and the shrieking rasp of Caleb Followill (the best rock vocalist of our generation). Each song on the early albums is like a drunken party in a pick-up truck, but naturally, every second or third song is the heavy hangover where the confessions pour and the audience listens in silence to the fascinating complications of the Followill mind.

Slowly, the albums lighten up. That could have been the "man" calling for a prettier sound, or it could just be the evolution of a band whose stories and personalities are ever-changing. I'm going to side with the latter - because music should be about evolution, and if anything, I am more intrigued every time I analyze the songwriting behind the newest Kings material. Come Around Sundown has already been pegged as "typical" and "corporate-driven," and personal bias about the band's worth aside - I can say with confidence that that is not the truth. It's a progression in a diverse and blossoming discography, it's the same (slightly more primped) dirty South rockers shouting their story at us in a new way. Take Only By The Night, the last studio release from Kings. It featured "Cold Desert", a heartwrenchingly beautiful but disturbing tell-all about rejection and the search for salvation ('Jesus don't love me, no one ever carried my load, I'm too young to feel this old'). Their albums tend to always feature a little something alluding to the fact that they're not quite there yet, and we're only a few chapters into this ongoing must-read musical autobiography.

This time around, I hear some real genius again. The starting track was a fantastic choice. "The End" is telling and desolate - a distant testimony of longing told overtop sonic guitars and Followill's effortless croons. The title of this song opens the window for a lot of music-review mockery (clearly from those I disagree with), but the lyrics are undeniably an insight into the reason the song was put at the forefront ('Cause I ain't got a home, I'm out here all alone'). "Back Down South" is a sleepy Southern beauty that's addictive in its simplistic chords and mellow vocals - a guaranteed like for anyone who has ever listened to music. It's perfectly redundant, timeless and will without a doubt be dusted off by future generations.

But in my mind, the real underdog pullin' in for the wind is "Mary." I can't get enough of the song. Slap the handlebar moustaches and biker leather back on the four of them, because this is the classic Kings sound we know and love. Warning: there's a lot happening and it comes across as fast and busy, but it's really just a slow-dancing ballad caked in bluesy-rock goodness. It's the doo-wop lyrics, the choral harmonies, the pounding beat, and the break-it-down guitar riff that makes you want to pounce on your bed in your underwear and do air guitar like you were eight years-old (or 21 in my case - I just did that a few minutes ago). It's soulful and swaying, it's a love song, it's an anthem - and between the four opening bass chords and Caleb whining the "Ha ha ha ha ha ha's" throughout, I'm not letting up on Sundown just yet.

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