It’s been three years since Tennessee’s Kings of Leon released the follow up to 2008’s much adored Only By the Night. Their 2010 offering, Come Around Sundown, was comparatively just a blip on the radar. Come Around Sundown, while solid, offered no “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody” and neither does their newest release Mechanical Bull. What it does offer is the same vulnerability and structures that spawned those 2008 favorites.
The album opens with the anthemic “Supersoaker”. It has reminiscent dynamics, tones, and progressions of their of their 2004, “The Bucket”. It sounds very familiar and while your feet maybe tapping, it’s nothing new from the Followill boys (KOL is three brothers and their cousin).
The following track, “Rock City” seems to sum up the band’s rock’n’roll persona. Caleb Followill boozily howls of, “running through the desert searching for drugs,” and reveals that flash of vulnerability (and southern sexism) as he opines, “I break down like a woman.” This track utilizes a dirty, but smooth lead guitar that lies somewhere south of Slash’s Use Your Illusion era sound.
“Temple” and “Family Tree” are typical KOL sounding tunes. They both have catchy choruses and some of that bar-band sound that is ubiquitous with all their music. If “Temple” represents their somber more recent, reflective side, then “Family Tree” has the beer soaked late night exuberance of their earlier work, complete with the drum and simple riffing intro akin to Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way”. However, Kings of Leon replace the high-strung North Eastern energy of an amped up Steven Tyler and Joe Perry with their southern-rock sweet tea vibe.
The album ends wistful yet up-beat. Particularly after “Tonight”, which seems to be more fruit of their magical hit-making formula. It’s melodramatic and brooding but it gives way to the chilled-out (but still big), faint Nashville sound in “On the Chin” which contains none other than… an acoustic guitar.
While the album is solid, Mechanical Bull is plagued by its familiarity. It’s a pleasant and easy listen, but it sounds just like everything else Kings of Leon have done since 2008. They’re lucky their formulaic approach is so palatable, because KOL is teetering on the edge of boring. In fact, if your album from 2013 is indistinguishable from that of 2008 aren’t you already there?
At any rate, Mechanical Bull is worth a listen especially if you’ve been a fan of Kings of Leon. You might see their static predictability in a more positive light. In a Tennessean sense, you might even consider them to be barrel aging, and like a good bourbon they’re only becoming smoother and less prone to unpredictability.