Thanks to brilliant tunes, a great sound and attitude, the Kings Of Leon have enjoyed pretty much unfettered critical and commercial success over the last few years.
What about this fourth album?
Well, compared to their previous output this is a much smoother, slicker sound with even, dare I say it, a needy, more vulnerable feel to it.
How so? Well, there's the backing singers, the drums breaking into bursting cymbals instead of maintaining driving beats, and the mildly juvenile guitar solos. Also new – and unsuccessful – is a more prominent use of the electronica, which adds nothing.
There's a lack of edge, and over-production is the cause. That said, this set of songs probably wouldn't have sounded all that much better even without the added polish.
Track for track, the weirdly popular 'Sex On Fire' is actually one of the weaker individual offerings (apologies if it's weirdly popular with you; maybe try it again in a few months and see how you feel about it....).
Opening song 'Closer' is unfocussed power-chord rock that tapers off without really going anywhere. Next up is 'Crawl', which is a little edgier but again sounds a little dated – guitar solo anyone? – and again really doesn't develop. Then there's 'Sex On Fire' (honestly; is it really anything more than music to drive an Audi to?)
The soft-rock tendencies really, really kick in over the middle section - samey, plodding power chords and vaguely aspirational, reaching choruses.
At least '17' adds a little pace (and I mean a little) to proceedings. 'Notion' and 'Be Somebody' are also a little more interesting and attitude-tinged, although the sandwiched in between 'I Want You' is another to be added to the 'plodding' list. Final track 'Cold Desert' is also firmly ensconced in guitar soloing soft-rock territory.
Overall, it's not terrible, but you can't imagine putting these songs on at a party, or enthusing about them, or listening to them all that often.
It's all very mild; with no swagger, and no sense that the band arrived in to the studio, spat out the lyric and ripped into it for three minutes before going off to do something dangerous or immoral. Instead, you get a 'ten take purgatory' production applied to a very average - boring even - group of songs.
Dammit, they sound as though they want you to like them, and it's a major turn-off.