After a three-year hiatus, the Kings of Leon have returned with the sixth installment in their discography, Mechanical Bull, and a sound that takes them back to their roots. They’re once again the gritty, raspy, and soulful Southern-garage-rock band from Tennessee, who, at the beginning of their career, were often dubbed the “Southern Strokes.” Unlike Only By The Night and Come Around Sundown, Mechanical Bull is a nostalgic reminiscence of the youthful and fearless sound that made them who they are.
The album kicks off with the lead single, “Supersoaker.” The opening riff immediately shows a resemblance to Youth and Young Manhood’s “Spiral Staircase”. From there the album leads into “Rock City”, a song packed with funky guitar licks as Caleb sings about “looking for drugs” while he “shakes like a woman.” The Followills may have aged and settled down in life, but their hearts have remained as young as most of Bull’s sound—with some slight lyrical maturity.
“Family Tree” begins with upbeat drums and frolicking bass riffs. At 2:53, the band shows off how youthful and fun their sound has come to be in this album: all instruments suddenly stop (with the exception of Nathan’s subtle pedal kicks and cymbals that add a resonant backbeat) as they join voices and clap in unison, all while singing, “I am your family tree/ I know your A through Z/ this is a secret proposition lay your hands on me.”
However, the album does not merely consist of nimble, catchy riffs and anthemic choruses. “Wait For Me” is a much more toned-down song, consisting of a riff that sounds as if you’re taking a lonesome stroll in the desert—all while accompanied by fervent and wretched lyrics: “Gonna open my heart/ Right at the scars/ Take a shot in the rain/ Walk for the pain.”
Still, despite its strengths, Mechanical Bull is not a masterpiece of an album nor is it anywhere near musical perfection. “Don’t Matter” descends into an insipid and redundant burlesque of a song. Caleb’s vocals hobble into repetitive lyrical waste: “But it don’t matter to me…And it don’t matter to me/ I can fuck or I can fight, it don’t matter to me.” After a strong start to the album, “Don’t Matter” threatens to divert the listener into an abyss of dubiety: Is this the same album? Did my iPod just shuffle on to another album? Another artist?
Thankfully, the following song, “Beautiful War”, makes up for the hole that “Don’t Matter” dug. A beautifully melodic and eloquent song, “Beautiful War” was written the same weekend as their 2008 smash hit “Use Somebody.” (Fun fact: Caleb recorded both songs drunk, which goes to show how much whiskey a man has to drink to make something worthwhile.) Another song that diverts the listener’s ear from classic Kings sound—regardless of how alluringly harmonious it may be—is “On the Chin.” Its country-ballad sound differs from the arena-rock sound that devoted fans have loved throughout the years. It does, however, have flowingly endearing lyrics, as any great country ballad would: “All my life I was born to lead/ worry not, just leave me be/ I’ll abide till the end.”
The Followills have come a long way from their roots. Their sound has radically changed throughout the years, but Mechanical Bull is a well-composed attempt to bring some of their debut sound back. It’s a worthy effort, but their attempt misses the mark overall. Sure, there’s some youth in the sound, but it’s not the same as the first couple of albums. That’s not to say the album itself is a euphonic flop, because it isn’t—it just doesn’t achieve what the band seemed to be shooting for.
by Bryan Acosta