Kings of Leon are a band of simple musical notions. They obstinately follow the blueprint for popular rock songs, whereby simple but immense lead guitar lines are played over simple guitar chord progressions while a great bassy drum sound dominates the heart of the song. Their only deviation from the unwritten rock gospel comes in the form of the bass, which they use in a very melodic way.
Simple, yes, and possibly susceptible to accusations of repetitiveness, but the artistic output from the coalescing of this uncomplicated foursome is far greater than the sum of its parts. And this is even before Caleb starts singing…
When this element is added, the result is a powerful one, instantly triggering memories for those of us whose youth and young manhood coincided with the development of the American quartet. Indeed, this band of brothers (and cousin) was welcomed generously by the UK, where KoL has remained in the hearts of music fans since the beginning.
Their new album, When You See Yourself, came with buzzing hype, being coined as their best work in a long time. Among the critics, there seems to be a consensus that their last few albums represent a complacency in the band’s commitment to making better and better music; the minimum expectation for any respectable artist. Having been on many a roadtrip with songs such as Walls and Beautiful War blaring out of the speakers, I personally think this is an unjust conclusion.
In fact, I believe other critics have it backwards. When a band does a similar thing album after album, it is imperative they somehow produce songs that become inexplicably personal and powerful. Kings of Leon do this extraordinarily well, but I struggled to make such a connection with songs on this album. However, this is not to say the album doesn’t boast great music to listen to.
When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away starts the album with a great riff which persists throughout the song. Layers are added really nicely, although the vocals are not nearly up front enough at the beginning, but this effect does suit the song well towards the end. The lead single The Bandit is a fast tempo pulsating track that alludes to hopes turning to fear. A bass and vocals refrain takes you through 100,000 People which describes a character who is the saving grace from the numbing boredom of everyday life. Rare for Kings of Leon, a slow keys introduction begins the next track, A Wave, but although the song does build, there is not a tsunami of music one would hope.
A familiar bass slide kicks Golden Restless Age into gear, with the chorus almost making you reminisce about the unknown said golden age. It feels as if you are listening to track 7, Time In Disguise, from the bottom of a well as the song and the line ‘come a little a closer’ pulls you up until you emerge at the start of the second verse. The melody frontman Caleb Followill applies to the title words sung within the chorus is infectiously pleasing to the ears.
Supermarket is the standout for those romantically inclined. It is a song that calls to all lost souls day-dreaming about taking a road trip with Kings of Leon playing through the stereo, an idea perfectly personified not only by the longing melancholy of Caleb’s voice but also by the lines ‘I took to driving to see what I would find’ and ‘I’m going nowhere with you on my mind’ that plays over and over in one’s head after listening.
Claire and Eddie is a nice ditty about the beauty of the American landscape and its saddening demise, while Echoing inclines more towards indie rock in a song that echoes everyone’s current circumstance of ‘waiting on a memory’, which we are all so desperate to make this summer. Finally, the strings in Fairytale provide a nice outro to the album.
When You See Yourself is clearly a Kings of Leon album. An unchanging presence within an ever-changing musical climate, they are a band who will never fail to make an album their fans like. It did not have quite the impact I may have hoped for, but this is only because the standard I have subconsciously set is so high for one of, if not my favourite, modern rock bands.