Kings of Leon ‘Mechanical Bull’ – Review

2 Oct

‘Wait for me, it’s all better now’ is the hook to one of Kings of Leon’s comeback singles. Here Caleb could be reaching out to his disgruntled fans, many of whom were left bewildered after a series of Spinal Tap approved disasters played out on the band’s 2011 tour. Mocking fans on stage at Reading Festival is never a good idea, neither is refusing to play your biggest hit, falling down drunk on stage, complaining about being attacked by pigeons and cancelling the final leg of your tour. Ok, why shouldn’t arguably the biggest band on the planet (two of whom are still in their 20’s) indulge in some rock star behaviour – especially as they’d had a virtually untainted run of good fortune until that point. Anyway, fans will forgive all that stuff if the music stays pure. Damningly for the band, at that point they were supporting ‘Come Around Sundown,’ a record that was dead on delivery. On ‘Wait For Me’ they seem to suggest that a corner has been turned.

Elsewhere on ‘Mechanical Bull’ Caleb sings ‘It’s the Comeback story of a lifetime,’ with more conviction than you’d imagine. This isn’t the comeback story of a lifetime, but it certainly isn’t another comedown (excuse the pun). It is a surprisingly consistent album that sounds rejuvenating for the band. It’s great to hear a group who recognise their strengths and play to them (take note MGMT and The Strokes). ‘Come Around Sundown’ was a dreary attempt at evolution, ‘Mechanical Bull’ is the sound of a band who have come to terms with exactly who they are and what they do: Kings of Leon are three brothers (and a cousin) who make good ol’ fashioned rock n roll. ‘Supersoaker’ opens the record with a fuzzy fanfare that blows the dust away. ‘Rock City’ is about as backward a song as your likely to hear in 2013; from the clichéd imagery (‘in the desert looking for drugs’) to the cringe inducing gender politics ‘I break down like a woman.’ Somehow they pull it off. ‘Don’t Matter’ is a chugging hard rock number that seems to draw attention to the band’s blase attitude to naysayers. It recalls every Stooges rip off you’ve ever heard. It’s in this backwater, second-hand rock n roll thrift store that KOL feel most at home.

Jared made some noises about ‘Mechanical Bull’ sounding like a culmination of their previous five albums, and In a way it does. For the opening trio KOL genuinely sound more alive than on any three song stretch since ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’. The arrangements are more polite, which suggests that the band have forgotten how to completely let loose and frolic, but the songs still rock harder than anything they’ve released in half a decade. Elsewhere they revisit the dark atmospherics of ‘Because of the Times’ (on ‘Coming Back Again’) the U2 balladry of ‘Only by the Night’ (on ‘Comeback Story’) and even the overblown/undercooked gospel rock of ‘Come Around Sundown’ (on ‘Family Tree’). As such it’s a Kings of Leon album I can imagine every fan enjoying, but equally I can’t see it becoming anyone’s favourite. I mean, ‘Wait For Me’ is great but it can’t emote like ‘Use Somebody’. ‘Temple’ is sexy, but it ain’t ‘Charmer’. Which also means that as much as fans will like it, critics are just as likely to loathe it. Pleasingly ‘Mechanical Bull’ doesn’t fight against that, it doesn’t grope in the dark for innovation or inspiration. It’s comfortable, familiar and warm – three very uncool adjectives that nonetheless feel wanted in 2013. It’s been a long wait for fans but ‘Mechanical Bull’ is worth it.


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