Kings of Leon – Walls

This is no modern classic, but worth owning nonetheless.
by Michael Cameron.

Kings of Leon, where to begin? Their musical record speaks for itself, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for a band of such magnitude. Their meteoric rise from hillbillies to rock stars has been well documented and talked about to death so we’ll just ignore that. The bottom line is that the average person didn’t know of or care about KOL until Only by the Night, and the two albums following were relatively poor by their own standards. With that said, Walls is a strong album, which is rather encouraging after sixteen years, seven studio albums, one very public mental breakdown, and well over ten million records sold worldwide.

This is not an album designed to break down Walls (pun game weak), since the members of the band have already achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the music industry. They lead a comfortable life in their hometown of Nashville, in beautiful houses with their beautiful families. This record is a result of what it means to consciously make a record out of the sheer joy of doing so. Another chapter in the life of a band brings about another set of experiences to express through their music. Some might describe this attitude as settling for mediocrity, but those people never wrote “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody.” With two of the biggest songs of the last decade under his belt, why should Caleb Followill bother to write another song? The answer, just like this album, is not complicated; it’s because he wants to. This is an easy-going album for an easy-going time in the lives of the Kings of Leon. To be perfectly frank, it’s a good listen. Good musicianship and honest songs go a long way to a perfectly capable album.

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Drumer Nathan Followill outside his beautiful house with his beautiful family.

 

If you are looking for an unprecedented breakthrough on how a rock record should sound, then look elsewhere. It shouldn’t sound like a contradiction, but every song on this album is simply enjoyable to listen to. It requires no effort to have the entire album play from start till finish. The flow is well curated from track to track, mixing thumping hits such as ‘Waste a Moment’ and ‘Find Me’ with slower paced numbers like ‘Muchacho’ and ‘Conversation Piece’ with ease. The production is soothing to the ears, an overall smoothed over feel has been designed for the listener. Just another day at the office then for producer Markus Dravs.

To make a smooth rock record there are certain criteria to be met. The foremost in my opinion: don’t let the drums get in the way. The snare is warm and subdued, the bass drum provides a light but assertive spine to the groove. Nathan Followill has a beautiful ride cymbal presiding over much of the music, taking us gently by the hand and guiding us along this journey prepared by his brother and lead singer/songwriter Caleb. A journey which is perhaps more personal than ever before, with the lyrics on ‘Over’ aimed directly at Caleb’s wife, with phrases that he has intimated will mean nothing to anyone else. ‘Muchacho’ is an ode to a beloved friend who died recently. As for the bass guitar, throughout the ten tracks Jared Followill has again demonstrated how to play up in big songs with catchy hooks and play down in the softer ones as required. In the first half of the album, the guitars are jangly and the lyrics anthemic. In the second half, the guitars are soft and the lyrics introspective. The final title track, ‘Walls,’ is incredibly personal for Caleb.  “When the walls come down,” might refer to the breaking down of the barriers that he places between his darker inner self and his loved ones. Other lines in the song encapsulate exactly what this record is, an expression of ones deepest, darkest worries allowed to escape from the prison of the mind:

“Oh a man ain’t a man unless he’s fought the fight… If you know what’s right, then you’ll walk away… Oh a man ain’t a man ‘less he has desire… You tore out my heart
And you threw it away… Now there’s nothing in the way.”

caleb

With every artist, there has always been a debate that centres around whether the true meaning of songs should be made public. Both sides of the argument have valid points, some fans prefer to make a song their own by attaching their own associations with the lyrics, while others agonise over the original meaning of a song to best come to grips with the true artistic intention. Caleb Followill seems to be rather nonchalant about revealing his lyrical secrets at this stage in his career. Walls delivers a transparency and honesty from the band that brings out the best in their musical capabilities.

All boxes ticked then, bar modern classic, this record was made by Kings of Leon for Kings of Leon. It just so happens that they have elected to share it with the rest of us on their upcoming tour. To me it’s reminiscent of the smell of rain evaporating off warm concrete after a local downpour on a summers evening. A good album for quiet contemplation, or as a soundtrack to your day to day activities. Designate Kings of Leon as bland if you wish, but give the album a chance. Perhaps the soft melancholy will ruffle your feathers just the way you like it.

 

If I were able to sum up the record with an image it would be this one:

evening-car

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