Album Review: Kings of Leon, WALLS
Written by Reid Smith on October 27, 2016
Image courtesy of josepvinaixa.com
Scribed by: Dylan Reynolds
Artist: Kings of Leon
Record Label: RCA Records
Release Date: October 14, 2016
Kings of Leon is back again with their seventh studio album, “WALLS,” an album that finds the Southern rockers straying far from their roots, leaving only faint echoes of their early work.
In that early music, Kings of Leon produced gritty punk-influenced Southern rock, a combination that drew comparisons to The Strokes. But over the course of the mid-2000s, the band would run from those comparisons and experiment with a polished, arena rock sound.
They bore the fruit of that sound in 2008 with their most popular album yet, “Only By The Night.” If you’ve ever been in a department store, you’ve probably heard that album’s massive hit “Use Somebody” playing softly from the overhead speakers, with its huge U2-esque guitar riffs and dramatic “oh whoa oh” chorus.
Ever since the success of “Use Somebody” and the equally popular but less department-store-friendly “Sex on Fire,” Kings of Leon has seemingly been in a back-and-forth struggle between mainstream success and their musical roots.
And “WALLS” is a continuation of that struggle. There are appeals to the band’s old-time fans in this album, but there are also appeals to whoever makes the playlists at department stores.
The opening track, “Waste A Moment,” is clearly an appeal to the latter group. Driving guitars propel the song forward, but not too hard, and we get our first “whoa, oh oh oh ohhhh” chorus within the first minute. This song is ready-made for Kohl’s.
There are several similar tracks on the album- mainstream rock songs that lack any musical distinction except for frontman Caleb Followill’s unique and impassioned vocals. “Around the World” is a prime example.
But there are other songs on “WALLS” that echo the band’s early work, albeit with less gritty production. In “Eyes on You,” there are hints of that classic Kings of Leon sound, including a satisfying not-too-polished guitar solo.
The best tracks on this album, however, are not the arena rock pieces or the songs that allude to their early discography. The brightest spots on “WALLS” are the ballads like “Muchacho” and “Conversation Piece,” tucked away in the middle of the album. These are the most interesting songs lyrically and arguably the least generic musically (“Muchacho” experiments with a Hotline Bling-style drum machine).
Kings of Leon is in their element with such ballads. Followill’s expressive and poignant vocals can shine, and the lyrics can take center stage. This is necessary, because unfortunately, most of the music on “WALLS” is too boring to be the main focus.