At first glance, it would appear that not much has changed in the world of Kings Of Leon. The bizarre haircuts and facial hair combinations are present and correct, Caleb Followill still looks like a grunged-up Legolas from Lord Of The Rings and still occasionally yelps like his testicles have just been slammed in a door.
That is indeed about it though when we compare similarities between Because Of The Times and the Followills last two albums. Whereas Youth And Young Manhood and A Ha Shake Heartbreak were filled with good-time, catchy blues workouts, the band’s third album sees them develop and enrich their sound. It takes a while to get used to, but like all good records, patience brings its own rewards.
The tone is set from the outset by opening track Knocked Up. It’s a long (over 7 minute), brooding track stating Caleb’s intention to look after the mother of his child, no matter what the objections of her family. Apart from the burst of noise in the chorus, it’s a gentle start to the record, and a rather brave one. Any fears that the Kings may have gone soft though are destroyed by the almighty bass rumble of Charmer, which also features some blood-curdling screams from Followill.
Listening to Because Of The Times, there’s one particular musical genre that leaps out – that of grunge. Charmer hints at it with its obvious Pixies influences, but it’s tracks such as McFearless and On Call that break open the plaid shirt and wear it proudly. The anguished, mournful vocal on the latter is a particular highlight, while the former could almost be the criminally underrated Afghan Whigs, with its magnificent wall of guitar noise.
This isn’t a depressing record though. The best track on the record, Fans, is a lovely, summery number, powered along by acoustic guitar and an emotional vocal by Followill. Lyrics namechecking “London Town” and “England’s queen who makes sweet love to tales I bring” just makes it all the more uplifting. Completely contrasting is the distorted vocals and exhilarting guitar solo of My Party, which displays just how varied an album Because Of The Times is.
The Runner sees things taken down a touch, a magnificently atmospheric ballad which nods to the Followill family’s lay preacher background (“I talk to Jesus, Jesus says I’m OK”). It’s true that some of the album’s closing tracks do come across as more like half-finished jams rather than songs, with Trunk and Camaro in particular sounding in desperate need of some tightening up. Even here though, the band are on top form, with some scorching guitar work on Camaro in particular.
Because Of The Times is Kings Of Leon’s best album yet, their most fully realised and mature work to date. Happily, this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their edge or blanded out at all – but with today’s audience seemingly more happy bouncing around to The Fratellis or The Automatic, it could well miss its intended target. However, those people willing to invest a bit of time are in for a treat.