KINGS OF LEON – WALLS
Remember that relationship you were in once? You know the one. It was good for a bit. Really good. Then it went tits-up. But you didn’t break up. You stayed together and tried to work it out. You tried to recapture when you were happiest even though you knew in your heart it was over. That is essentially what Walls by Kings of Leon is. A band past their best, not trying their best, trying to sound like what they used to sound like. Kings of Leon sound like they’re happy and making an album not because they have something to say, but because making music is their job.
After three groundbreaking records, in 2009 KOL released “Sex on Fire” – a song so perfectly-crafted and radio-ready they’ve been chasing it ever since. And on WALLS Kings of Leon are trying to be Kings of Leon. Again.
There are glimmers of the brilliant, tight-lipped, tempo-changing, metronome-free rhythm section of old (“Around the World”) but they’re lost in a thick, oily slush of attempted radio hits and stadium lighter moments. WALLS should really be called Please Can We Have another Hit. Even Caleb Followill’s undeniably gruff and beautiful voice seems half-arsed – like he’s singing into a microphone whilst simultaneously texting a group Whatsapp; attention at half-mast. Gone are the obscure and personal lyrics of “Fans” and “Knocked Up”. Gone are the moments trying to figure out what on Earth Caleb Followill is even saying, or if he is in fact just yelping like a heartbroken preacher’s son in a dust bowl.
Often he was. And it was great.
Instead, with WALLS we get lyrics so carefully crafted to appeal to everyone, they end up meaning nothing. “Take the time don’t waste a moment, never ask to be forgiven” in lead single “Waste a Moment” sounds like it was written for a Match of the Day montage or the end of a Justin Timberlake rom-com. Every chorus comes in exactly where it should. WALLS is painstakingly precise. WALLS is a Big Mac – great after a few beers, or if it’s late and there’s nothing else to eat.
Not to say a band shouldn’t continue to grow. Of course they should.
But Kings of Leon seem to have grown into mid-tempo dad rock. Marcus Dravs’s bloated production carefully duct tapes over average songwriting by dousing everything in “arena epic” reverb and landfill backing vocal “oohs” and “aahs” – as if Dravs is trying to tell you these songs are grand, so you should feel grand emotions. This is the record producer’s equivalent of fading up a string section in the sad bit of the movie to help elicit tears. It doesn’t work. And you can almost feel the £7 pint of warm beer in your hand while you look around at drunk, topless fans waiting for “Sex on Fire”, wondering how these people could also be fans of your Kings Of Leon.
WALLS isn’t terrible. It’s just crushingly formulaic. It’s a band who still want to be great, but prefer staying in watching Dancing with the Stars wondering what day the cleaner comes.
So you should probably break up now, before it gets even worse.