In recent weeks there’s been a lot of talk in these parts about Kings Of Leon’s “Sex On Fire” and accompanying inexplicable video along with the Followill’s good looks and the album art’s two looks. Blow-dried hair and anxious riffs on venereal diseases (right?) do not a record make, so we decided to move beyond first impressions and to give the Tennessee boys’ heavier, darker fourth album Only By The Night a thorough listen. Note: As part of our Kings Of Leon immersion, we also watched this recently posted “Sex On Fire” behind-the-scenes clip, which proves the video was just as inexplicable to the Kings. Somehow this is not surprising.
The album opener is a slower, spacier, heartfelt, sluggish, never-ending, atmospheric track called “Closer.” But it’s closer, as in — moving closer to something — as opposed to someone or something finishing something up. This makes sense because the song never ends. The next track’s “Crawl,” maybe the most fuzzed-out song on the collection. It’s interesting that it was released as the teaser prior to the more representative “Sex On Fire.” Maybe they wanted to give they idea that this was a straight-up guitar-rock album? Or perhaps in this election year, they decided to rile us up with lyrics like “The reds and the whites and abused / The crucified USA / I said the prophecy unfolds / Oh hell is truly on its way.” But we don’t know what that means. As in Only By The Night’s marketing plan, “Crawl’s” followed on the album proper by the much debated “Sex On Fire.” From there we move into entirely new territory.
The opening surge of “Use Somebody” sounds like M83 — until Caleb comes in with much urgency. This is one of the better songs, likely because it again goes back to that windy M83 upswing, giving us a break from Caleb’s urgency. Most of the other tracks feel more insular — this is one that people would reference as “good driving music” (if you liked KoL). It’s followed by “Manhattan,” which has a catchy bass line and shitty lyrics. It’s also about one break, many lyrics, and one minute too long.
Speaking of lyrics, the following ballad “Reverly,” a quiet song accented with electronic drums and some distant atmospheric noises that feels much longer than its three minutes, opens like this: “What a night for a dance, you know I’m a dancing machine / With the fire in my bones / and the sweet taste of kerosene.” From there “17” remakes Winger’s “17.” We think.
As much as maybe we’re not feeling this record, there are pretty accents, like the guitar/piano overlay in “Notion” or the noisy exit of “Cold Desert.” (There’s nothing redeeming about the bottled blues of “I Want You.”) But these are tiny specks in an otherwise lame whole. It’s kinda like Blues Traveler performed by younger, more attractive dudes who’ve discovered the electronics Black Heart Procession used a decade ago. Which is cool, if you’re into that sort of thing, England.
Only By The Night is out 9/22 in the UK and 9/23 in the States via RCA.