Friday, May 04, 2007

I Actually Have to Buy Records To Review:

Kings of Leon - Because Of The Times

I won't automatically praise an artist for trying something different. For me, change is something that has to be evaluated on a case by case basis, because bands will throw a monkeywrench out there for the wrong reasons some of the time, such as: "Hey, look at our shiny monkeywrench, different than any monkeywrench that's ever existed. And we didn't tell you it was coming until after we got 10-15 bucks from you." That said, I also won't automatically roll my eyes at a band who'll risk pissing off some longtime fans because they've got some evolution to express. Because Of The Times is such an expression, valid and proper. The more immediate, garaged raunchy-tonk of their past might never come this way again.

It'd be easy to attribute the Kings' growth and Times' heightened sense of atmosphere (specifically a cavernous sheen of reverb that permeates it) to the band's recent stint opening gigantic U2 shows, but if there's any of that influence, it's from the mid-80's model. The brilliant opening gambit, "Knocked Up", is predictable fare in title only; that trailer slang is only a cover for a seven minute-plus opus that melds a vintage Johnny Cash locomotive riff with some whistling guitar touches nicked from the Edge (circa "Bad") punctuated with bursts of power chord punch. The band's reach is impressive and admirable, kicking off their New Deal with this spooky and arresting epic moan.

They don't lay off challenging the listener, either. The demented, unsettling grunge redux "Charmer" (with singer Caleb Followill groaning, "She stole my karma, oh no. Sold it to the farmer, oh no." I didn't know whether to consider it Dr. Seuss silliness, or search out some mental help for the man.) is followed by the chugging, ready-for-Madison Square Garden dynamos "On Call" and "McFearless". Even a more relaxed middle section stands out for the breathing room that would've seemed out of place on their earlier work. And by the time the "classic" King of Leon sound resurfaces with closers "Camaro", "Arizona", and "My Third House", the perception of what the band's about and what it can do is colored by the 11 songs that precede it.

Overall, Times shows a band trying to build a different type of relationship with its audience. It's an interesting approach they use, too; an arena-rock sound that invites more fans to join the party, while at the same time putting a little distance between them and the larger crowds.

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