Filed by M. Trevor Higgins
The Kings of Leon myth is the stuff of critical drool and four star reviews: The scraggly looking Followills, sons of a Southern preacher, drive across the country with their roadie/cousin Nacho playing jangly rock about late nights as they deflower every farmer's daughter, super model and groupie in sight. That shtick charmed fans and critics for two albums, but with the release of their third album, "Because of the Times," the family Followill needed to show they were more than a raspy voice and tight rhythm section.
On "Because of the Times" the Kings shatter their previous musical mold with ferocity. Lyrically, they still mine the same material with varying degrees of success. Frontman Caleb Followill's voice is a rich, textured instrument, and after hearing their second album, "Aha Shake Heartbreak," I asked: Does it matter what Caleb Followill says when he sings?
I'm still not sure. But musically, the Kings are in another land on "Times," and there isn't a neighbor in sight. The album opens with the seven-minute "Knocked Up." It's not their take on "Freebird," but rather a romping tale of runaway love set to the most patient, mature and best sounding music of their careers. It opens subtly, with bass and bass drum kicks only. Slowly it builds, adding a two part guitar hook that includes sharp, high notes and a lower, rolling rhythm. By the time Caleb's throaty wail enters I'm hooked. The songs explodes, pulls back in and expands again. The album's theme is set.
There's a great three-song set in the middle with "True Love Way," "Ragoo" and "Fans." Again, Caleb turns his eyes to female fancies: "I want in like a substitute/I've been working so awful hard for you/but you don't say you just hold your breath/so I can't touch what I haven't yet."
On the sixth word he sings "substitoooo." Maybe it sounds so good because it's such familiar ground for the group. The women of the Kings shake "like the morning railway" and look "so cool in her new Camaro." At various points, "she's such a charmer," "she don't care what her momma says" and "when she said call me now baby and I'd come a running."
With those tales of why it "ain't so bad when you're the king," is the most interesting backdrop painted by Followills yet. "My Party" is driven my fuzzed-out bass and marching order drums. "The Runner" is a reflective outdoor slow-dance. "Camaro" drives like the classic guitar rock usually heard in most Camaros.
Overall, it's the Kings best work yet, and a clear sign that the Followills may be more than just pretty boys with a backstory. They might actually be a great rock band.
Four stars out of five.
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