They've survived walk-outs, booze madness and dive-bombing pigeons to make this same old, same old new album
Too much corporate moonshine turned KoL fat and lazy on their last few albums, a consequence of their commercial breakthrough in America which inevitably spilled over into their personal lives. The brothers and cousin Followill fell out three years ago amid tales of alcoholism, walk-outs, and, brilliantly, some dive-bombing pigeons with weak bowels who fulfilled many a critic’s most ardent wishes at the St Louis's Verizon Amphitheatre.
Such tumult, not to mention a sizeable dry cleaning bill, might give some bands pause for thought but as if to reassure themselves and their paymasters, it’s a tale of same good old, same good old boys on this predictable sixth album.
At this stage, a Kings of Leon song is as formulaic as a Mumford and Sons song – it will start with a lovelorn vocal from Caleb, guitars will flicker meaningfully, there will then be an almost languid drum fill, and then, well, then Caleb will unleash the full petrol-gargling power of his larynx and the guitars and drums will make another mad dash for the finish line. Slap on some Innards of Skynryd, repeat ten times, and voilà! Southern guitar Gumbo; serves millions.
This worked very well indeed during the band’s commercial peak with the urgent Sex on Fire and Use Somebody and to be fair, Mechanical Bull’s opening track, Supersoaker, does share similar genes with those songs. Its spacious, roomy drums, twinkling Glockenspiel, and a roaring guitar riff are a meaty and satisfying listen and with Caleb “down in the Delta ringing bells", this is KoL at their best – unfettered and slightly unhinged.
It’s the pity the rest of Mechanical Bull fails to buck with such conviction. Beautiful War does the U2 thing of slow build and release; on Family Tree we are treated to the truly egregious sound of KoL getting’ f-f-f-f-funky; and there is even a song called Rock City and while it may not be meant as a rueful send up, lines about scouring the desert for drugs and a good woman are a hoot.
On the plus side, Don’t Matter’s Sex Pistols style thrash (never mind the bullocks anyone?) is very fine indeed and the introduction of lush strings on Comeback Story makes it one of the better songs.
Elsewhere, Temple has a cute Thin Lizzy guitar part and as with the lonely and longing Wait For Me, the Followills’ talent for streamlined southern rawk is still occassionally enjoyable.
Much has changed but to their credit KoL are still true to their old school country rock roots. It may sound like a steer let loose in the proverbial china shop in places but on these new songs they remain men done wrong, or men who are gonna hit the bar with some good ole boys, or men who miss the simplicity of pre-fame life. Most of all, they remain men who are just looking to party and get by in this big, bad world.