Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 17, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Album Review: Kings of Leon – Walls

Album Review: Kings of Leon – Walls

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Kings of Leon - Walls

Kings of Leon – Walls

Kings of Leon’s seventh album, Walls, is a product of catharsis. Having captured the zeitgeist a decade ago, to briefly becoming the biggest band in the world, the band that successfully reworked existing rock n roll tropes in simple but novel ways eventually succumbed to the most stereotypical, band-ravaging cliché of all: substance abuse. After a period of hiatus and three undistinguished albums, is the demand for Kings of Leon still there?

In ‘WALLS’, the title track, singer Caleb Followill repeats, “when the walls come down”. This central metaphor- of structural collapse and the removal of obstructions- is representative of the familial band’s reconciliation after much pain. Yet, in the process of reinvention, there is a new attempt at depth: Walls is also an abbreviation for We Are Like Love Songs.

The contrast between this album and Kings of Leon at their most successful is stark: instead of frenetic, roughly over-driven guitars, wailed, often indecipherable lyrics, and pulsating percussion and bass, there is a steadiness more familiar to their more recent records, yet without the tired, obvious commercialism that has plagued those efforts.

THIS FEELS LIKE MUSIC THAT IS, AT LEAST IN PART, RADIO FRIENDLY

There is no obvious single from the album other than ‘Waste A Moment’, despite four being released, and it feels like the first composite record since Because of the Times: there is a harmonious tone that binds the songs together.

Ostensibly, this is most apparent in the musicianship, where much of Kings of Leon’s power has always been. The sound of the band is far more blended than it was historically, with no single instrument dominating. Instead, there is a subtle, underlying wall of sound that comes from a synthesiser on ‘Find Me’, and reverb drenched guitar shimmers on tracks like ‘Muchacho’ and ‘Over’, the latter being the best track on the album, reminiscent of Roy Orbison.

On ‘Reverend’ there is the familiar consistency of a driven bassline beneath a plucked, jangly guitar, and on ‘Eyes on You’, there is a clear lineage to the angular style of riff that dominated guitar music a decade ago. Yet they never get carried away: there’s an awareness to pare back, and one they manage successfully. As Caleb Followill sings on ‘Reverend’- a blurring of the distinction between himself as an orator and performer, and the religious spiritualism from which the band arose- there is a “Reverend on the radio”, and this feels like music that is harmonically pleasant and, at least in part, radio friendly. The same could never be said for ‘Four Kicks’.

"How do I play this thing?"

“How do I play this thing?”

Lyrically, the album understandably aims for depth, yet this is where the demolition is far from complete. Too often there are broad, sweeping, and aimless evocations that rely on sentiment rather than incisive artistic commentary: “I can’t get there on my own, you can’t leave me here alone”.  If Kings of Leon wish to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Trent Reznor in giving form to existential, substance-related anguish, this is still only the first tentative step in that direction.

As it is, the feeling from the album is one of uncanniness. The artwork is four dolls heads that display the likeness of the band members, floating upturned in a white, seminal fluid. The musical elements are all recognisable as Kings of Leon, but restrained, cauterised, and therefore strange and somewhat unfulfilling.  There is a sense of nostalgia cultivated by the frequent use of reverb and echo, and the arpeggiated guitar of ‘Conversation Piece’ is almost a lullaby. As cathartic as it may be, it’s still disappointing to see a band that were once so vital slip into musical pleasantries.

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