Kings of Leon
’s Only by the Night
represents a return to straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll after the bold, moody experimentation of their last record, 2007’s Because of the Times
. But that doesn’t mean Only by the Night
is a creative regression. Instead, the new album merges subtle sonic shading with Southern rock sensibilities to produce a record that’s far superior to their early albums. When they started out in 2000, Kings of Leon were an overrated, over-hyped band – eight years later, they’ve matured into a confident unit that, belatedly, is deserving of all that initial acclaim.
A Fresh Approach to Classic-Rock Traditions
On Kings of Leon’s first two albums, Youth & Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, the band (and especially lead singer Caleb Followill) struggled to establish their own identity while delivering rock songs full of Southern twang and boogie-ish rhythms. Because of the Times suggested that Kings of Leon were finally ready to move out of the shadow of their influences, and Only by the Night continues that encouraging development, offering yearning, emotional songs that don’t skimp on the guitar pyrotechnics. Where before you could easily guess what albums inspired the band’s songwriting, now their material feels organic and spontaneous, displaying a fresh approach to classic-rock styles that gives them vitality and relevance.
Two Dynamic Singles
Kings of Leon, which consists of three brothers from the Followill family and one cousin, have produced some of their most accessible tunes on Only by the Night
, striking a happy balance between mainstream songwriting and exciting new ways of expressing familiar sentiments. “Sex on Fire” scoots along on a side-winding, slightly alt-rock guitar groove while Caleb upends the typical sex-rock song conventions to come up with some legitimately sexy lyrics about a passionate fling. (It helps that his drawl has developed authority and sensuality over the years.) On the very next track, “Use Somebody,” Kings of Leon rewrite U2
’s majestic stadium anthems into a Southern-style ode to a soul mate Caleb doesn’t want to let get away. Whether they were unwilling or unable to create such sweeping songs in the past, Kings of Leon turn a corner on Only by the Night
that has allowed them to finally break through on American rock radio after years of having to be content to be a cult band.
Some Experiments Don't Quite Work
Unfortunately, some of Kings of Leon’s more adventurous material doesn’t always work. The modern-rock leanings of “Be Somebody” are aurally interesting – Nathan Followill’s postpunk drumming and Matthew Followill’s echoing guitars create a sense of brooding intrigue – but the song never evolves beyond the “experiment” phase. Likewise, “I Want You” introduces some ghostly vibes over Caleb’s mysterious lyrics about a failed love affair that may be reignited, but its noir tone is only somewhat memorable. The worst you can say about Only by the Night is that its weaker tracks don’t quite work – and that maybe these failed sonic explorations will open the door for more successful songs down the road.
Kings of Leon's 'Only by the Night' - Bottom Line
Only by the Night
serves as a fine companion piece to Because of the Times
, presenting Kings of Leon at the height of their potential. Its first half is full of concise, compelling songs, while the second half gives way to less-successful edgier material. Kings of Leon haven’t made a fantastic album yet, but they’re certainly getting closer.
Best 'Only by the Night' Tracks:
“Sex on Fire” (Purchase/Download
“Use Somebody” (Purchase/Download
Release date – September 23, 2008