Kings of Leon ‘Walls’ – Review

25 Oct

‘It feels good to be the fucking underdog. We’re a comeback team.’ That was Kings of Leon three years ago, but if you’ve read any of the more recent interviews with the band you’ll see they’re spinning much the same narrative again. In fact, they’ve been positioning themselves like this at least since 2007’s ‘Because of the Times.’ Plucky underdogs on the comeback trail. This time it may have felt more necessary to position their new album, ‘Walls’, as their comeback, and themselves as underdogs. Last album, ‘Mechanical Bull’ sold a fraction of the amount shifted by its predecessor ‘Come Around Sundown’, which itself only sold a third of the number of copies of 2009’s phenomenally successful ‘Only By The Night’. Are Kings of Leon running short on new ideas?

They’re certainly using similar selling strategies, only this time less convincingly. And as a part of their fan base since the very beginning, I’m personally feeling less patient. ‘Walls’ is presented as a ‘return to form’ but whereas ‘Mechanical Bull’ was a supposed return to their early, scuzzy rock n roll roots, ‘Walls’ is a return to the polished arena rock form of ‘Only by the night’. That was an album with a faceless, U2-aping sound, made palatable by the abundance of undeniable anthems. So imagine if they kept the sound but took away the anthems. Say hello to ‘Walls’ (an anagram, bizarrely, for ‘We Are Like Love Songs’).

‘Walls’ is by a fair stretch the band’s weakest record to date, worse still than the bloated but ultimately redeemable ‘Come Around Sundown’. It’s an utterly bland but obviously proficient album with no stand out songs to speak of and nothing interesting or original to say. There’s nothing dreadful here either but that’s only because the band haven’t risked putting a foot In to unknown territory. Every hook, every melody, every lyrical motif has been tried, tested and market researched before. Everything is fine but also frustratingly safe.

It’s a shame because their last album, ‘Mechanical Bull’, was a very good KOL album that saw the band wearing in convincingly as a dependable, mid life rock band. It sounded live, honest and authentic. ‘Walls’ is more of a mid life crisis album. The band try unsuccessfully to dial the clock back ten years, revisiting sounds but adding nothing new in the process, despite supposed intentions along those lines. Enthusiasm and energy are lacking from start to finish. Only ‘Waste a Moment’ carries any kind of momentum and only ‘Around the World’ concedes anything to funk or rhythm.

Producer Markus Dravs allegedly coaxed KOL in to new poses, at one point telling them to play like they were Sex Pistols (I honestly can’t imagine which song that refers to). Sadly then, the band always go for the easy option. Riffs, melodies and lyrics sound interchangable and many songs simply sound like older, better ones. ‘Waste a Moment’ is almost identical to ‘Supersoaker’. ‘Reverend’ could pass for ‘Revelry’. Synths and strings are used sparingly on certain tracks, which is certainly a new tact for the group, but they are used like window dressing. You wish they’d made a new instrument the focus instead of a background detail. ‘Walls’ ultimately falls in no man’s land. It is neither a grizzly rock and roll record nor is it the ambitious, populist effort the band had intentions to make. It’s the easiest possible record that the band could have made at this point in their careers – a bland re-run of ‘Only by the night’ without that record’s clear strengths.

On ‘Walls’, the low key, atmospheric closer that resembles every other low key, atmospheric closer in the band’s back catalogue, Caleb sings ‘a man ain’t a man unless he has desire’. Ironic then that ‘Walls’ doesn’t convey any obvious signs of true desire. It presents a band reliant on vague, cliched platitudes, happy to rely on old tricks and lacking an awareness of their true strengths. ‘Walls’ debuted at number one this week in the U.S, their first album to do so. That’s some success right there, it’s just a shame they’ve had to airbrush their sound to achieve it.

4.5/10

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