Album Reviews

Kings Of Leon – Can We Please Have Fun

(Polydor) UK release date: 10 May 2024

There’s evidence on this, the Followills’ ninth album, of magic still coursing through those weary old Nashville bones

Kings Of Leon - Can We Please Have Fun After a couple of years counting their millions, American hitmakers Kings Of Leon have returned to unleash their highly anticipated ninth studio album (and much-touted artistic reboot), Can We Please Have Fun. The album has been sold as heralding a new era for the band as they team up with a new, and celebrated producer in Kid Harpoon, whose collaborations with artists such as Harry Styles and Florence And The Machine have solidified his reputation in the music industry. Can We Please Have Fun is also supposed to represent the band reconnecting with their musical roots while delving into new artistic directions. So far, so confusing.

Formed in Nashville in 1999, Kings Of Leon consists of brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill, and their cousin Matthew Followill. The band’s debut album, Youth & Young Manhood (2003), catapulted them into the limelight, receiving widespread acclaim for its greasy rawk riffs and slinky rhythms – a sound that offered a genuine alternative to the tight-fisted indie of your Interpols and your Strokeses. Their best album, 2007’s Because Of The Times, was the last time they came close to sounding like a rock band, because 2008 saw them release Only By The Night, and go stratospheric with Sex On Fire and Use Somebody – heights they’ve never been able to reach since.

As with any new album by a heritage rock act, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is – and this is said with some trepidation – that this might be the best Kings Of Leon album since 2008, actually. It’s certainly got more bite, more venom, more muscles (in moderation, of course) than anything they’ve released since. Take Mustang, for example. Dirty bass, shards of rusted guitars, classic Caleb wailing, propulsive rhythm section – there are aspects of Bruce Springsteen, Pixies and other strange bedfellows wrapped up inside a rather dazzling package.

The album opens with another Kim Deal-ish bass line, and the ensuing song – Ballerina Radio – is a constant tension-building exercise with a shocking level of restraint. It’s sultry and otherworldly and it never really threatens to explode (to its credit). The lithe, dusty Americana vibes of Rainbow Ball, and the rubbery grooves of Nowhere To Run offer a range of textural pleasures – range being the precise thing the boys have been missing for the past few records. Actual Daydream and M Television are classic Kings Of Leon, in the sense that they sound like you’d expect Kings Of Leon to sound 25 years into their career, doing what they do best. Hesitation Generation, which comes near the end of record, does that too.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however. The album – like their past however many – has a handful of songs that suffer from a distinct lack of energy. There are moments of power and ferocity on the record, but far too many moments that offer precisely nothing to raise a pulse, coax a tear or move a hip. To put it simply, there aren’t enough songs on here that make you want to shake your tush. And what makes that notion even worse is that you know they’re capable of it. The prime offender is Split Screen, which really meanders itself out in the wilderness, aimless and lost. Some others float by inoffensively, happy to fill an album that’s sure to shift a copy or two. Yet like the crafty veterans they are, they follow Split Screen with the best (and most raucous) song on the album in Nothing To Do, which is – by KOL standards – positively unhinged. Bass flying past your head, drums alternating between militaristic and loosey-goosey, and a wild crescendo to close it all down. It’s their best song in years, on what might be their best album in years.

Look, if you’re coming to Kings Of Leon expecting something experimental or anything really out of the ordinary, you’re a bit of a numpty (see also: Interpol, The Killers, &c.). But come to Can We Please Have Fun with an open mind and an open heart and you’ll find it’s more than worth a shot. For a band that don’t seem capable of making a bad album, but looked like they’d resigned themselves to never making a truly great one, Can We Please Have Fun shows there’s still magic in those weary old Nashville bones. 

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