Kings of Leon: Album Review

Album – When You See Yourself

Okay so here we are, the day I’ve been excited for/dreading for weeks now… one day, 5 NEW ALBUMS I want to review and listen to. How in the hell am I supposed to be dealing with that? I’m hoping that by putting this down in writing, it may actually encourage me to try and get through at least 3/5 of them in review form within the next week (too much comes out on the 12th for me to run over). I feel like it needs a catchy name… Fantastic Friday, maybe? Working title of course but anyway, let’s get onto the first one ASAP, shall we…

Kings of Leon are a rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, formed back in 1999. For a time in the late 2000s-early 2010s, they were one of the biggest rock bands on the planet after their album ‘Only By The Night’ scored them their first US platinum certification, thanks in large parts to the two huge singles off it, Sex on Fire and Use Somebody. The band have won an impressive four grammys and sold a massive 21 million albums, an impressive feat in this day and age. While I would say their popularity over the last few years as ebbed a little, I cannot remember hearing a new song by them get any sort of big airplay over here in recent years, their new album, When You See Yourself, seems to have a fair amount of buzz about it, not least because of their interesting release tactics for it. I have to admit I’m excited to get into this, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the band and I used to be quite the fan in my early teens, so I’m hoping for some big things!

When You See Yourself, Are you Far Away (longest title, I promise!) starts off with a beautiful slow guitar progression on the guitar. It slowly builds up more and more, adding in some more guitar and some simple drums etc and really gives off a great feel, a very modern day American indie vibe, think MGMT or Cold War Kids, a style KoL very much helped to build and inspire. Caleb Followill’s vocals soon come in over the top and even more to the chilled out, calm feel of it all, being fairly low in the mix too. The chorus dropping back even more, leaving just the vocals, drums and what sounds like keys or synth sounded awesome too, adding some needed layers to an otherwise simple song. Also, while being the longest song on the album and rather tame and relaxed, this really didn’t feel like it was pushing 6 minutes at all, it didn’t drag at all, a real testament to the band’s song writing skills. I do have to admit thought that while I did really like this song, given the heaviness of the older stuff I was expecting something a little faster and harder to open on. I know they’ve gone a little lighter since their young days and if the whole album is like this then it’s a little more understandable, but something this slow seems an odd choice to open an album on if there are faster ones afterwards.

Next up is one of the singles and by the look of things the biggest so far, The Bandit. It opens on an awesome guitar riff, again giving off MASSIVE American indie vibes even if it does pick up the pace a little more. Caleb has a bit more projection and power in his voice this time, sounding more like his older-self, fitting nicely over the slightly heavier music. The build-up of the pre into the chorus was fantastic too and while I did think the chorus could have been a little more solid and more Sex On Fire-esque, it was still a damn catchy chorus and one I know I’ll have stuck in my head for at least the rest of the day. We also get an awesome little guitar solo after the second chorus, one that reminded me a lot of John Frusciante’s style. A final chorus then comes in to take us home. This was great, an up tempo but still pretty relaxed song and well worth of being a single and its place on my playlist.

Time for another single. 100,000 People. The song opens on some awesome slow electronic warbling, a smooth, simple drumbeat coming in over the top and soon joined by some great guitar chords. This is another slow one but you can definitely hear the Nashville/country influences coming in here, the vocal melodies throughout being very typical country ones and even sounding a little like Chris Stapleton’s at times, and they sound awesome. This one reminds me quite a lot of the opening track, it having a similar feel and tempo to it. That isn’t a bad thing at all, and if anything I think this one does it even better. The synth during the chorus adds a beautiful layer to it all and makes the whole thing sound even bigger and better. Another fantastic song and another one that while being pretty long really didn’t feel that bad, clocking in at 5:44 but it definitely felt more like 4. Oh, and it’s another that made the playlist!

Stormy Weather changes up the pace a little, opening on vocals and a great slow, funky bassline underneath. I also don’t know if it’s just me, but it reminds me a little bit of some of Jack Johnson’s stuff somehow, or some of the slower Red Hot Chili Peppers’ stuff. That feeling goes away a little though when the guitars and drums come in for the verse, it immediately returning back to the fairly distinctive KoL sound. This song was good, but I have to say overall I don’t think it was quite as good as the previous three. The bass was the real highlight of the song, a simple but massively fun line that was really the driving force of the song, everything else working to fit around it. The chorus was pretty enjoyable too and one of the better ones so far, but the verses sounded messy and all over the place, the drums just sounding disordered.

A Wave is another long, slow song, much like the opener and 100,000 days. But when I say slow, I mean REALLY slow. Like the drums and bass don’t come into it until nearly two minutes in. Like don’t get me wrong, this is a good song in terms of each individual part, and on a generally faster album this could have been a great song. However, on an album full of a fair few slower songs, and better ones at that, this one is a little lost in the shuffle. The first time so far this album that I have felt the length of the songs and the vaguely repetitive style of the genre.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about the next few songs, Golden Restless Age, Time In Disguise and Supermarket. Again, none of these songs are inherently bad by any stretch, but all are that similar in tempo and feeling that they kind of blend together a little for me. Time in Disguise had a good chorus, but that was about the only distinguishing feature I could pick out from the three songs. I have sung the praises of this album a lot so far and I really hope this doesn’t come across as insulting or harsh at all, but for me this is perfect background music. It’s not music you put on and analyse part for part or have some special part that you are personally listening out for that you love. It is just a whole album of chilled out, stripped back slower songs that just exist to be listened to and enjoyed. Driving music. And, in that mindset, it is one of the best albums in that sort of sound so far. I really do like it.

Claire & Eddie again channels the bands heavy country influences, opening on some beautiful acoustic guitar work behind the vocals. The whole song keeps the same idea and feel too, a simple, slow, acoustic-country ballad, and I love it. It’s so beautiful and just enough of a change of pace for this album for it to feel fresh and interesting. Not much to it but this may be my favourite song on the album. Playlisted.

Echoing starts out feeling like the heaviest yet, with a pretty nice guitar riff and drumroll before a second riff comes in that sounds a surprising amount like Status Quo. Again, this a good song, but the style is starting to wear a little thin on me after nearly 45 minutes. The same sort of sentiment could be said for the closing track, Fairytale, too. Another good song but damn, I was starting to get a little burnt out by the slow indie music by this point. Especially when the closing track is a piano and slow guitar chord lead one, I’m back to disliking slow closing album songs again!

Overall: this was great. It’s very different to what I was expecting, given how big a fan of their early, heavier stuff I am, but that is not at all to say this is bad. It’s different, slower, and in a hell of a lot of ways more mature. This will be an album that, while I haven’t gushed over it quite as much as a lot of other stuff I have reviewed in the past, I will listen to a lot as it is such a nice album to have on to just chill to, especially with summer coming around fast. It’s up there with some of the better albums of this year for sure, despite me not having too much to say about a lot of it.

Overall: 8/10

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The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths

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