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Kings of Leon - Because of the Times Review

by Jason Marder

The artists presently known as the Kings Of Leon have an all but orthodox upbringing into the rock n' roll lifestyle. Growing up, Followill brothers Nathan (drums), Jared (bass) and Caleb (vocals/guitar) along with first cousin Matthew (guitar) were all held down by the straight-laced propriety of their priest father/father-figure Leon. They attended faraway conventions to revel in all the glory of the powers that be, and Leon most definitely held down the holy fort at home in Tennessee. Straying far from the expected path, the Followill siblings upped and started a family band. How quaintly…. southern. The Kings of Leon were welcomed with open arms however, and their unique brand of down home rock-drawl jambalaya turned some important heads, U2 and Bob Dylan included. So astounded were these two music mega-supernovas that they asked the up and coming band to tour with them over 2005 and 2006 in support of Aha Shake Heartbreak, their sophomore effort.

Kings of Leon's first two albums, Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak set the tone for the band. Not only did they set the sonically edgy and abrasive tone but the tone for song structure and content as well. As many bands do, the Kings seemed to focus on man's most captivating pastime: girls. Their aptitude for structuring seductively sophomoric little ditties about every feeling, foible, and fuss related to their female muses put them in that feel-good, party-rock category. But from the amalgamation of intricate guitar cacophony to soaring, throaty vocals to the minimalist yet unfaltering percussion, the music industry knew that the Kings of Leon were no one-hit wonders.

The Southern boys generally continue with the same elements of raucous, country-rock musicianship on their new release, Because of the Times. Though the first single, "On Call" does speak to the band's newfound leap towards adulthood, it's the less-mature, still teen-angst-addled tunes that make this record as memorable as the last two. No doubt, "On Call" marks a captivating departure from the band's tried and true formula, incorporating vocal effects and more atmospherics that give a compellingly ethereal quality to the song. Tracks like "Black Thumbnail" and "My Party" hearken back to the Aha days, seamlessly combining the fuzz-drenched, unmistakable guitar riffage with the jaggedly crooned vocals. "Camaro" also speaks to the band's unforgettable past; a walking bass line, an intricate guitar showcase, a steady backbeat, and caustic vocals that evoke Aha's "Pistol of Fire" or Youth's "Molly's Chambers". But on cuts like "Fans" and "Arizona", when the band tries to defy the call of their acknowledged niche and speak to maturity, they unfortunately fall flat on their faces. However, the epic album opener, "Knocked Up", a runaway-lovers, parents-be-damned, illegitimate-child-birthing saga, redeems whatever shortcomings those forgettable songs make evident.

Maybe Because of the Times is more than just an aesthetically pleasing moniker for the Kings of Leon's third album. Maybe the times really have caught up with them. After all, they're a big deal now, ranking among the likes of their idols. But with a band like the Kings, the succession seems a little too self-imposed; like jumping from the metaphorical high-school stages of Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak to a suit-clad, 9-5 lifestyle, with a pinch of mid-life crisis mixed in there somewhere with this release. Though when the band loses sight of their obsessions with expectations and public perception and let their true colors shine through, listeners are instantly reminded of all the reasons why the Kings of Leon are an ambitious and adroit act. The most adorable part of it all is that they know how great they are and will continue to be. Caleb must be speaking for the entirety of his band when he declares on "McFearless", "it's my show".

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