October 16, 2008
Kings of Leon- Only By the Night (released 9/22/08)
Everyone remembers the first time they heard Kings of Leon. For me, it was in my friend Julia’s car, summer of 2005, fleeing a party that reeked of hipster hair gel and cigarettes. The song: “King of the Rodeo.” My reaction: “What IS this?” It was everything I needed. It was fresh and unafraid, as is the whole album. From the heartbreaking “Milk” to the unabashed “Soft,” ‘Aha Shake Hearbreak’ is a punch in the stomach to any indie rocker who thinks they know it all. And the fans have come to expect this from the three brothers and cousin from Tennessee. They know who they are and what they do, and they rock it.
While “Because of the Times” was unfairly brushed over by most, it failed to match up to the band’s first two releases (Aha Shake Heartbreak, Youth & Young Manhood). There are some good songs, most notably “Fans” and “The Runner,” but all in all the album seems unsure of itself. Now with the release of “Only By the Night,” we see “Because of the Times” for what it truly is: a transition from the sincere beginnings of the band to their newer, more forced direction.
The album opens with “Closer,” a ballad about a lovesick vampire which lets the audience know loud and clear that KoL is no small-town band. This isn’t the ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ Kings of Leon. This is a new sound, reminiscent of The Killers and other mainstream arena-rock bands, and it spits in the face of the true fans. Every band, when producing a new album, is faced with the daunting project of progress; it is the artist’s burden to always one-up the last. What is so disappointing is when this attempt to improve leads to an alignment with the mainstream. “Facing the door, I wanna be somebody,” Followill croons in "Be Somebody." The problem is that in trying to be somebody, they lost who they already were.
All in all, “Only By the Night” is good music. There are good songs (“Sex On Fire,” “17,” “Revelry”) that leave the listener happy. But to the Kings of Leon fan, good is not good enough. We want quirk. We want razz. And this is all we get?