No Aha Shake, just heartbreak

Rock and roll akin to the stuff of Woodstock and the Summer of Love has made a comeback in the last five years, thanks in large part to Kings of Leon. On their debut album, 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood, and their subsequent album, Aha Shake, Heartbreak, the three brothers and cousin hailing from Nashville, Tenn., brought back a style of rock music that had been pushed aside by the arena glam-rock of the ’70s and ’80s. Singing about everything from transsexuals to an inability to perform in the sack, the two albums had a raw, unpolished and unapologetic Southern folk-rock sound that hadn’t been seen since the heydays of Lynard Skynard and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
On their fourth full-length album, Only by the Night, Kings of Leon try to add some maturity and experience to their sound. Their songs are fuller, with each track containing more layers — and therefore more production — than those on their previous three albums. The effect is a very polished sound, with every chord, drumbeat and lyric sounding crystal clear. But that’s the problem — the songs are too produced, too polished. Where their previous album, Because of the Times, was the perfect marriage of the Southern rawness that distinguished them and the more experienced sound they wanted, Only by the Night sounds as if it was run through production 100 times over until every minuscule detail was perfected. The result is an album that doesn’t feel as authentic, one that sounds more like Bruce Springsteen and U2 than the raw Zeppelin/Skynard sound that makes Kings of Leon so great.
It’s not that Only by the Night is bad. The album features a lot more lyrical complexity than its predecessors. The first track, “Closer,” with its eerie opening reverb and haunting lyrics about lost love, is one of Kings of Leon’s best yet. “Crawl” offers the same formula for hard rocking that Time’s “Black Thumbnail” did — minimal lyrics and a lot of power chords — and lead singer Caleb Followill’s raspy, gritty voice is at its best on this album, particularly on tracks like “I Want You” and “Frontier City.” Still, though it has sparks of genius, longtime fans of Kings of Leon will find Only by the Night pushing them back to the band’s older albums rather than inspiring hope in things to come.

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