The Tennessee family band, Kings of Leon, have distilled their early swaggering Southern rock into important-sounding songs on their sixth album, Mechanical Bull.
The Nashville-recorded album, produced by long time associate and co-writer/producer, Angelo Petraglia, is heavy on upbeat anthems done with an earthy garage-centric focus.
Fans of the group’s early bourbon drenched jams and vocalist Caleb Followill’s befuddled Elmer Fudd delivery (sounding like he ditched his musket for a jug of XXX) won’t find too much in common with Mechanical Bull. There’s some dirty twang and gritty lyrics but rare glimpses of raunch.
The group and Petraglia have honed the rough edges but Mechanical Bull rides in rocking and streamlined (Supersoaker, Rock City). The raw appeal of Kings of Leon has always been its calling card; there’s a degenerate charm and innocence — you’re listening to a real band, warts and all. But they’ve had a lot of Brylcream since then.
They conjure up some stately arena rock (Beautiful War), but they keep pretension a long way off. The whiskey-for-breakfast groove of their early albums has tightened up and the stagger walks a straight line.
The recording is resonant and clear with a fondness for reverb; it’s slightly suggestive of the group’s lo-fi origins. There’s some excursions into atmospherics (Wait For Me) garage-gospel (Family Tree) and good ol’ dirt rock that drives like a noisy backroad pick up (Don’t Matter)
Followill’s lyrics should dispel any fear of softening: “Such a swine lips like wine/But it don’t matter to me.” They’re driven by instinct and tempered with good direction.
The Kings culminate their rock fest on Tonight, a merger of the band’s steady-on slew of epic hard-rocking twang and gritty, groovy melodicism.
They take those things and shape them into a bunch of solidly arranged, tuneful rock songs.
You can hear a group that’s grown, and the Kings of Leon are trying out different sounds and new voices in an exciting way.