Published Oct 14, 2016In an age not so long ago, the Kings of Leon were hugely relevant. Their first three albums were the sound of rock'n'roll vitality so badly needed in the post-internet era of music consumerism, their greasy, bearded bravado a seemingly symbol of authenticity. A few years later, it's hard to hear the swagger once identified in their anthems of whiskey and debauchery. Their three previous outings were all progressive steps toward the sound they've cultivated.
These records eschewed their roughly hewn rock riffs in favour of reverb-soaked atmospherics and more spacious production, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's a time and a place for that, and they aim for it again with their latest record, WALLS.
Album opener "Waste a Moment" sets the template for the record with a propulsive, bass-driven sound and some bright guitars shaped by an arsenal of aural effects woven throughout. The verses are promising and set up a big chorus, but the band come up just short of a memorable hook. Followup track "Reverend" improves things slightly with some more shimmering guitar arpeggios layered across an aggressive rhythm that leads to a satisfying, explosive chorus, but the album's biggest highlight by far is "Find Me." Here, an intricate guitar riff is cleverly juxtaposed with some much-needed power chords that drive the seriously badass rock groove. The verses feature a subtle yet immediately infectious vocal that will please fans that prefer the band's "Black Thumbnail" to "Radioactive." Unfortunately, the sonic atmosphere tends to get a bit more homogenous and bland beyond these songs.
"Around the World" is a pretty shallow, pop-driven new-wave offering with a slightly danceable beat that's catchy but lacks substance, and feels somewhat disingenuous. "Over" is a dark and brooding slow-burner that's mostly forgettable with its languid flow that doesn't really reach any kind of apex. "Wild" breezes along amiably with a wistful melody and a pleasant enough guitar riff, but the chorus finds the band starting to sound tired.
It would be too easy to dismiss this album as an unwelcome departure from their more edgy and daring early output, and yet, even in the context of the niche they've created for themselves, WALLS sounds safe and comfortable. The songs coast along with a mellow fluidity that serves to establish a decidedly mature, if complacent, sound.
Although the band don't sound youthful and cocky anymore, they do sound more polished and confident. Fortunately for the band, the album also champions an inoffensive, radio-friendly sound that will be sure to serve as more airwave fodder for the months to come. With WALLS, Kings of Leon have further strengthened their foothold in formulaic arena-rock. Is that a bad thing? That depends, but if, as this album suggests, they're aiming for MOR greatness among the ranks of the Eagles or REO Speedwagon, then WALLS is a triumph. (RCA)