Artist: Kings of Leon
Album: Because of the Times
Comments: This review was supposed to go up on Friday. I had written up an original, sent it to my proofreader, and added some final points to it. All I had to do was press the “send” bottom on my screen.
But I couldn’t do it.
There is something go in here. The Kings of Leon are up to something, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Something in the music; some great intangible, immeasurable thing that I could not grasp told me to wait for a while, and to listen again.
So I did. And what I found is that Because of the Times is a sprawling, massive, heavy album that was worth the extra time invested in it.
The Kings of Leon are a hard band to review. When I was writing up my first draft, I had a friend of mine listen to Because of the Times with me, hoping a pair of fresh ears would yield new ideas and, perhaps, an explanation as to what this band sounded like. Because, honestly, I was befuddled as to how I should classify the Kings of Leon. Other critics have penned them as staunchly American as apple pie, but listening to them I could hear fragments of new wave, British surf pop, and Interpol-like guitar work.
What my friend said was this: “There isn’t anything wrong with it. But at the same time there really isn’t anything great about it either. It just sounds like a bunch of guys who are really good at their music and who play really, really well together. It’s mediocrity to the point of excellence.”
She’s right, of course. Because of the Times won’t bowl you over with complex musicianship or overwrought construction. No, they go a quieter route of being impressive; their memorable attribute is their confidence and their cohesiveness. The Kings of Leon play fantastically off of one another. There are no mistakes; there is nothing that doesn’t fit. Alone, they are just four guys. But together, it fucking works. Because of the Times is the sound of a band in total control of their music.
There are times on this record when you can hear something special happening. The album opener “Knocked Up”, is a 7 minute relaxed rocker that sounds like it was recorded on a space station. Minimal drums slowly purr as a repeating bass line anchors the song, and an ethereal, distant guitar melody plays off of everything like sunlight dancing on the hood of a car. Even when the song kicks in at the 4:30 mark, the band still sounds relaxed and in control.
Longtime fans of the Kings might take issue with Because of the Times because it is somewhat of a departure from their other records. Where fan favorites like Aha Shake Heartbreak have instantly catchy songs and a sort of down home, basement-recorded, stuffy production, this album sounds like it was produced in outer space by comparison. Everything is turned up crisp and clean, and the music echoes off the walls of the brain when played in headphones. But those who would complain about the grandness are missing the point; those who would lament the lack of singles are not listening hard enough. This record takes Aha Shake Heartbreak, makes it grow up, matures it, and makes it better.
But at the end of the day, it is the great intangibles in the music that make it so good. I cannot explain what is going on in this music, but there is something here on Because of the Times that demands to be heard, and will not be denied. The Kings of Leon have made one of the best rock records of the year, and I have no idea how. But that doesn’t matter. Mediocre to the point of excellence? How about just excellent?
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Knocked Up, Ragoo, Fans, The Runner
Worth The Money: Yes