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Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown

The band's fifth album is an uninspired mess.

“This could be the end,” Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill signals on the ironically titled opener “The End” to the band’s fifth album, Come Around Sundown. Sadly, after one listen, it’s apparent this is the case for any promise the band once held.

Kings of Leon, who are all sons (and one nephew) of a Tennessee preacher man (Leon Followill) [editor’s note: check out the full story here], blew open their career in 2003 with Youth and Young Manhood, a fiery blend of gospel-infused southern rock and straightforward rock ‘n' roll led by the howling and growling of singer Caleb Followill’s unusual warble and supported by the band’s relentless energy and edginess reminiscent of the Stooges and the Stones. 

Kings improved on that formula with Aha Shake Heartbreak, before releasing their most striking and mature effort to date, the atmospheric arena rock of 2007’s Because of the Times. From there, the Kings prettied up their stadium-ready rock with more radio-friendly hits to make the Grammy Award-winning and wildly commercially successful Only By The Night, which featured such hits as “Sex On Fire” and “Use Somebody." While Only By The Night featured its fair share of missteps, the Kings found themselves with a larger audience and an opportunity to make themselves modern rock staples. Unfortunately, their fifth album, Come Around Sundown, is an uninspired mess, using the same polished arena rock formula but without any sort of ready-made hits.

After the Kings open with the dreary melodrama of “The End,” the band kicks into first single “Radioactive.” The song boasts some fine guitar interplay between the bass, lead and rhythm, but ultimately becomes overblown when Caleb kicks into his best revival preacher impression in the chorus. “Pyro” opens with the gentle bounce of airy guitars, but Caleb Followill’s wail is earsplitting in the chorus. Followill’s voice used to be a main draw for the band as his voice used to be as fierce as an irritated jungle cat, but now he is as mild as a damaged kitten.

“The Face” and “The Immortals” are pretty standard mushy anthem rock sounding like b-sides off of Only By The Night and sporting slow melodic singalong choruses that aren’t worth wasting your breath on. “No Money” is a fairly rollicking rock dirge but remains fairly unremarkable and “Pony Up” has an ample guitar riff but never really develops.

There also appears to be negative correlation between the coherence of Caleb Followill’s voice and the quality of the lyrics he is singing. With each progressive album, it has become easier to understand Caleb Followill’s lyrics, but with that, he seems more and more inept as a songwriter, as he sings almost exclusively about getting drunk and having sex. In “Mi Amigo,” Caleb Followill boasts about how his friend helps him out when he’s too drunk and “And then walks my a-- home.” On “Birthday," Followill sings more about the party lifestyle: Walking her home with the grassy field/ Fallin' and laughin' at the drinks we spilled/ Just one of those nights that I have to share/ She's in a daze, without a care.

While most of Come Around Sundown is a conventional alt-rock affair, Kings of Leon do try a few new tricks to mixed results. “Mary” is a mildly charming grunge take on '50s doo wop and “Beach Side” is a fine laid-back stroll with some pleasant Motown style bass and percussion. Possibly the most disappointing moment on Come Around Sundown is “Back Down South,” which is Walmart country complete with fiddle and Kid Rock lyrics but sadly will likely rule country, pop and rock radio stations not too long from now. “Mi Amigo” is another laugh, as the band tries to add (surprise!) Latin mariachi horns in a white-trash nod to a buddy who bails him out when he’s plastered.

It’s overly stated that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it’s most definitely the case with the Come Around Sundown album cover. The once ferocious Tennessee rocker’s new album cover have Jimmy Buffet style soft-focused palm trees on an island during a sunset, indicating a move to a more derived, lazy approach for the band, and a disheartening new low for a once-promising young band of brothers.

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