Kings of Leon continue downward spiral with Come Around Sundown

In a scene from “A Mighty Wind”, Fred Willard’s character, Mike Lafontaine, talks about his old television sitcom called “Wha’ Happened?” His catchphrase is, coincidentally, “Wha’ Happened?” The short scene from that film is exactly what comes to mind when one listens to the new Kings of Leon record Come Around Sundown.

The first three records by the band had a liquored-up, ass-kicking confidence to go along with the filthy garage-rock the band played. Nathan Followill’s percussion pounded along perfectly with the bar-room riffs from his cousin Matthew, and his brother Caleb’s drunken howl.

Now, this same band who sang about trouble “getting it up”, cocaine, and booze attempts to belt out a Tennessee version of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The band pulls no punches in their attempt at arena rock glory. Lead single “Radioactive” sounds like it was written by the Edge and Bono post-Achtung Baby and delivered to the quartet in Nashville. Caleb’s mumbled-yet-powerful wail takes the lead and the family-friendly, nondescript lyrics, “It’s in the water/ It’s in the story/ Sons and daughters/ In all their glory,” seem to beg to be bumped from Prius speakers and frathouses alike. The whole song revolves around numerous objects that are clearly never identified, but they’re all hanging out in the water for some reason.

Come Around Sundown also features an extremely innovative track listing. The opening track is called “The End.” The start of the tune sounds as if U2 appropriated the Foo Fighers’ “My Hero.” Lyrically, “The End” is just as ambiguous as the rest of the record, discussing having no home, praying with fireballs, amongst other random topics that the Followills deem important.

The country-fried stomp, “Back Down South” sounds like a stoned ripoff of a Kenny Chesney song. There’s a smooth fiddle that calmly duals with a slide guitar behind Caleb’s acoustic weapon. The lyrics unremarkably resemble something one might find at the Country Thunder Festival rather than a headlining spot at Glastonbury, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza.

Most disappointing on the album is the track “Pyro.” The title leads fans of Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak to believe there is still some whiskey and backcountry anarchy left in the band. Unfortunately, it turns into a reverb-drenched cross between all the bad parts about My Morning Jacket and Local Natives – with Caleb’s voice once again tacking control. He continuously whines that he “wants to be your cornerstone” and sounds more in need of a coffee than drunk and willing to light shit on fire.

The few redeeming qualities on the record stem from the Motown waltz of “Mary,” that would be more attractive if a more soulful group took charge and added a horn section and the Because of the Times-eqsue rocker “The Immortals.” Unfortunately, neither really hit style that initially garnered Kings of Leon’s original popularity in the UK, and sounds more Snow Patrol than “Southern Strokes.” Most visible on these two tracks are the weakness of Nathan Followill’s drums. For a drummer who used to pound through two-minute rockers like Animal from the Muppets, he seems content to sip a glass of merlot and occasionally alternate between snare, kick drum, and crash cymbals. This is also the guy who challenged the folks from Groove Armada, Florence and the Machine, and Stereophonics to a fight backstage at the V Festival this summer, before hiding behind security. They probably would have been scared off 5 years ago, but now, with the band releasing peaceful arena rock and designing $90 t-shirts for a boutique in Denmark, the tough guy act is just that.

The album art for the record, which is a photo of a tropical beach during the sunset, is essentially how the album feels – if it were inside of Assembly Hall. If you were asked by the Kings half a decade ago to Come Around Sundown you’d make sure to bring extra booze, cigarettes, and protection because the party was going to be wild. Now, if you Come Around Sundown the Kings might be napping on the beach playing with piles of money and making sure more sand didn’t go up their shorts.

WPGU Music Staff Rating: W
Key Tracks: “Mary” and “The Immortals”
Recommended if you like: The Killers, Kasabian, and Arctic Monkeys.
W = Poor
W-P = Fair
W-P-G = Great
W-P-G-U = An instant classic!

* Disclaimer: [These recommendations do not reflect those of the writer, Tom Pauly]

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