Music Reviews
Because of the Times

Kings of Leon Because of the Times

(Columbia) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

2004's Aha Shake Heartbreak saw the Followills perfect their punchy clamorous Nashville-tinged garage rock produce a surprise success after a shaky debut album. Their tales of tour-bus conquests and fleeting relationships on the road were delivered with lyrical grace and hooky choruses hidden beneath backwoods garage rock. On Because of the Times, the three brothers and their cousin aim for a more expansive, less ramshackle classic southern rock sound.

Lead track, Knocked Up, tells a tale of teen love, a young couple fleeing the disapproval of family and town to have a baby. And on this number, the sound is as familiar to fans of the Kings of Leon as the subject matter; bass and drums sprawl expansively, overlaid with clipped guitar motifs for seven minutes beneath a repeated keening vocal refrain. Charmer, a clamour of drums and bass bubbling like noxious bayou ooze beneath Caleb Followill's caustic screaming attack on a southern floozy, could also sit easily among Kings of Leon's earlier work.

Third track and first single, On Call, is as atmospheric and dark as you might expect a Kings of Leon love song to be; but then the lead guitar kicks in, with a hi-fi riff over the typically sludgy backing, and even more shockingly, Caleb's usually slurred and indecipherable vocals ring clear above it all. From here on in, the album becomes musically a very different proposition.

Because of the Times swaggers through many more stories of lustful girls and testosterone. On previous albums, the boys seem to have been in awe of the subjects of their songs, mystified and intoxicated by Southern sirens, but now, they are in control. My Party sees them face off a challenge from another young man. Their cocksure and triumphant attitude is reflected in the barnstorming rock, reminiscent of familiar influences such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young but also of rock acts as diverse as U2 and Steppenwolf.

Although at times the vocals ring clear, at others they are as coherent as Liz Fraser face down in a pool of treacle. This approach belies economic but poetic lyrics such as on the tale of a chaste girlfriend, True Love Way: "With your smart mouth and your killer hands, with a potion that I have made, for a young man it's a heck of a wage".

The subjects of fast cars and faster women go together with the posturing rock influences like an FHM calendar and a mechanics' shop, but like Kerouac the Kings of Leon possess enough subtlety and skill to make their music more meaningful than the stuff of teenage wet dreams. However, once they hit their stride, the pace never changes, and the songs blur into one another. And while the change in style has been effective, the most memorable songs are those that open the album and are most akin to their earlier work along with one or two others that stand slightly above the rest, such as the cacophonous blues track Black Thumbnail and the soaring swirling cliff-top rock ballad Arizona.

If the subject matter hasn't changed, and the sound has matured, Caleb Followill's voice has aged a lifetime. Always expressive, he croons, screams, yelps, and groans through the album with impressive control, and while the songs become somewhat monotone the vocals remain remarkable throughout.

Not quite a soaring rock masterpiece, but certainly a bold move that achieves a variable degree of success. Because of the Times proves that Kings of Leon have the ability to change move into new territory, as so many of their garage peers from five years ago have failed to do.