There’s a few “important” albums most bands make: the first album, the first album on a major label, the breakout, the follow-up to the breakout, the new-sound album…
And Tennessee rock band Kings of Leon are on that followup to 2008’s breakout, Only By the Night, which featured the two giant singles “Sex on Fire” and more importantly “Use Somebody”. Going from relative obscurity to iTunes top sellers with your 4th album does weird things for a band; the fanbase changes entirely, and all of a sudden you’re turning down Glee. What do you do for your fifth album? Do you pander to the fans who remember “Molly’s Chambers” or the ones that are still learning the words to “Use Somebody”?
Come Around Sundown doesn’t so much answer this question as much as turn it into a problem. In some effort to validate their “We don’t want to be mainstream, we swear” comments in interviews, there’s no true rewrite of “Use Somebody”, but the influence of success is easy to see. The whole of Come Around Sundown tastes like arena rock; U2 from down south, y’all.
But an underdeveloped Y’all2. Too often these songs feel like jams that never quite came up with enough ideas to justify their length. Album opener “The End” (real clever, guys) feels like repeating one minute for four of them, and once you clear “Radioactive”, a lot of these songs sound uncomfortably similar.
Most of the album sees Matthew and Caleb Followill’s reverbed guitars etching out scattered but tasteful melodies while Jared and Nathan’s rhythm section bangs out some prominent bass riffs and groovy beats. KoL is too musically competent for it to be bad, but if you leave “Beach Side” or “Pony Up” on in the background, none of them will jump out at you.
Not that it’s a terrible thing. First single “Radioactive” furious riff and arms-in-the-air chorus sees the Followill’s stadium rock aspirations being realized. “Back Down South”, despite the almost shoehorned “Look at how southern and rootsy we are!” implications, is a pretty decent country rock number that breaks up the album’s threatening monotony. And rawker “No Money” features some stellar guitar work by Matthew Followill. Jacquire King’s production is pretty solid; everyone comes through in the mix, and with KoL that’s a definite plus.
But Come Around Sundown isn’t without its troubles. The band said in interviews that they more or less made up the lyrics on the spot, and it shows. These are bottom of the barrel lyrics, with lines like “I never look back/At all the things I’ve done/I never look up/Seeing that he’s on the run” and “It’s a big thing/That the heart desires/And now I have to/Try to outdo the fight”. I can put up with oblique lyrics, but those are just two stanzas of “I have nothing to say”. Then again, with Caleb Followill’s SeetherCreedNickel vocal style, lyrics take a backseat anyway. And sometimes that style works, and sometimes it makes a song almost unlistenable (hello there, “Mary”). The band’s desire to be a Southern U2 bites them in the ass on closer “Pickup Truck”, a mawkish trainwreck of bleary-eyed sincerity crashing into overambition.
Come Around Sundown could have announced that Kings of Leon were ready and able to embrace their potential as the biggest mainstream rock band in the world. Or it could have told everyone to take that potential and shove it. Unfortunately, instead of being an explosive record that swung one way or another (which would have been the better move), Come Around Sundown plods in the middle. Two and a half stars.
tl;dr: If you appease everybody, you thrill nobody. Two and a half stars.