Critically, this one is gonna be kind of a toughy. Kings of Leon rose from a very independent place, a sound that bridged their southern-fried country roots with garage rock and grunge. They had loads of talent, and each album seemed to build on their previous musical accomplishments rewarding them for the risks they took experimenting with their so-called “hillbilly Strokes sound” or seven minute-long bass-happy hard rock.
But after Only By The Night, everything changed, and it became difficult, no matter how open-minded you were, to share them with the lowest common denominator of the music-listening population. They worked hard, and it felt selfish to begrudge them a little mainstream, top-40 radio fame, yet knowing they’d be grouped in with the likes of Nickelback or Theory of a Deadman just felt…dirty. And it gave a lot of their hardcore fans from years ago valid reason to be concerned. Would their next record pander to their new-found mainstream friends, or to the loyal fans that loved their stuff long before they were part of the trashy cycle of commercial radio play?
The answer turned out to be none of the above. Because their follow-up, Come Around Sundown, is kind of disappointing for everyone. It’s a polished genre grab bag record of mostly stale, completely innocuous songs. Forgot the noise and the rawk, forget the hipster ballads and quaint stories, what they’ve made here is the forgettable transitional album.
That may seem a little harsh upon repeated listens and careful retrospect, especially if you listen to the album with curbed expectations. There’s actually a few decent cuts here, and KOL will probably get a couple relatively-successful singles from the 13-song cycle. “Pyro” is pleasant enough, heavy drumming and guitar arpeggios with a heavy dose of pathos. “The End” is concise melody over sprawling basslines and jagged guitars, probably one of the songs closest to KOL’s previous canon of music. By the close of the record, things have gotten pretty low key, to the point of introducing baked, My Morning Jacket-esque call-and-answer guitar lines in “Birthday” and jam-bandy stoner rock of “Mi Amigo”. The strongest song of the album is also their happiest, and loudest: “Mary”, a song that’s best described as a hybrid of Motown-style melody mixed with the broader, louder rock sound that the band’s been so partial to in their previous couple albums.
But the finished product is still that of disappointment. Because Of The Times was practically a religious experience for many fans; it showcased a band that had grit and raw ability and wasn’t afraid to play around with it, both in terms of musicianship and songwriting. This record, however, only showcases static cling. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but also nothing particularly great about it either.