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Album review: Kings of Leon "Mechanical Bull"

September 27, 2013|By Ernest Wilkins, @ErnestWilkins | RedEye Sound Board

** (out of 4)

Tricky guys, those Kings of Leon.

On its first two albums, the Followill clan carved out a lane that mixed the best parts of early garage acts like The Strokes and the familiar riffs and subject matter of Southern rock classics. People in the know went nuts. Then came 2008's "Only By The Night," 6 million records sold the world over and the jarring transition that occurs when a band you could fathomably see if you happened to stumble drunkenly into Mercy Lounge in Nashville one night become anthemic arena rock stars. A lot more people started listening, and the music became a shadow of its former self.

The Kings' last record "Come Around Sundown" left me bored and wondering if they'd lost their ability to craft harmless songs that stick around in your head longer than you expect them to.  On "Mechanical Bull" there are a few standouts--"Don't Matter" has a consistently energetic riff that evokes a particularly challenging course on some sort of racing video game, and the singles "Supersoaker" and "Temple" are being promoted heavily for a reason. Still, it's more of the same hash they've been slinging for the last two records.On a bright note, singer Caleb Followill apparently was alerted to the notion that his vocal stylings were dipping into Randy Newman-esque territory and stepped up the gruff on this record. It's totally added gravity to the songs. Never ones to assault the listener with lyrics that stop you in your tracks, Kings of Leon's latest provides more so-called gems like, "I'd take one in the temple, take one for you" (on ... well, "Temple") that cause eye rolls. Maybe just buy her flowers next time?

All in all, this record just kind of exists. Kings of Leon never signed up to be the type of band that forces you to think deeply. Unfortunately, they also seem to have little interest in the "screw what those nerds think" type of rebellious simplicity that has led to success for bands like Foo Fighters and the Black Keys. These guys are smack-dab in the middle of the road in modern rock.  "Mechanical Bull" marks a step in the right direction, but that should be concerning, since the right way is back the way they came. 

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