Album Review

Kings of Leon - Mechanical Bull

Released September 24, 2013
Chad W. Lutz
Looser and drunker; that’s what I came up with. It took me a while to really narrow down how I felt about the new Kings of Leon release: Mechanical Bull. Admittedly, I had to listen to it two or three times through before I found myself actually forming an opinion. I was indifferent, with lukewarm feelings at best. The sound was there, the energy was there, but there was something missing from the equation.

And then I nailed it. They’re drunk. I mean, they’re always drunk (they’re the Kings of Leon), but they sound especially drunk on the album. Like George Thorogood drunk; like Jim Morrison on “L.A. Woman” drunk. Technically speaking, Kings of Leon are as solid as ever, but the energy never reaches quite the same crescendos we’re used to seeing from the Tennessee quartet and the music never quite syncs consistently enough to create the sort of poppy, resonating sounds found on previous releases. The result is something that doesn’t grab you from the get-go and leaves you feeling indifferent.

In its own right, Mechanical Bull showcases Kings of Leon branching out from their typical sounds. “Rock City”, the second track on the thirteen-song album, and “Family Tree”, the seventh affair, sound like Grateful Dead cuts from the eighties. Later in the album, we hear odes of Counting Crows and Blessed Union of Souls in “Temple”, complete with nineties alternative-era “oooo’s”. What’s most surprising is they work. Mechanical Bull bucks…any expectation of what a Kings of Leon record ever used to stand to mean.

The only tracks on the album that play in the vein of 2008’s Only By The Night and 2007’s Because of the Times are “Wait For Me” and “Beautiful War”, which use dynamic rhythms dissonant and soaring melodies, and vocals building to crescendo as the music swells the way we know KOL capable.

But this isn’t 2007 or 2008 and, whether we like to admit it or not, Kings of Leon are nowhere near as relevant as they once were. There was a time, namely following Only by the Night, where one got the feeling they could do no wrong. Then came Come Around Sundown (2010), and many of us realized Kings of Leon could actually crap something other than platinum, even though the album won a Grammy (we all know how much that’s worth these days).

Mechanical Bull is a step in the right direction. A drunken stumble, perhaps, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Many of the tracks begin to grow on you a couple of listens through. “Tonight” and the aforementioned “Rock City” and “Temple” linger on in the mind well past the tracks’ final fades. There are just too many other sleepers and an album that doesn’t cohere very well as a whole to chalk it up to one of Kings of Leon’s greatest.