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Kings Of Leon - Mechanical Bull (Album Review)

Monday, 23 September 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

Arriving three years after ‘Come Around Sundown’, ‘Mechanical Bull’ is Kings Of Leon’s sixth studio album, but following various setbacks, fall-outs and tour cancellations it’s a wonder that it’s here at all.

The band’s profile exploded on both sides of the Atlantic in 2008 when Sex On Fire landed, reaching the summit of the UK singles chart and paving the way for Use Somebody to become a mega hit in its own right. The double whammy of commercially friendly hits launched the parent album, ‘Only By The Night’, towards a double platinum certification on home soil.

But the subsequent stratospheric heights they scaled came at a price, as pressure mounted to repeat that success with ‘Come Around Sundown’, a disappointing follow-up that emerged from a fog of rumours about its recording and the band’s exhaustion.

It finally took its toll when singer Caleb Followill walked off stage during a disastrous Dallas gig and was later diagnosed with throat problems, resulting in a complete rest under doctor’s orders and the cancellation of the remaining tour dates.

In contrast to its predecessor, ‘Mechanical Bull’ was apparently a fun record to make, with practical jokes aplenty in the studio as the band relaxed a little. This freedom occasionally shows in the music itself, the result being an album that sits somewhere between those giddy heights of commercial success and the band’s rootsy beginnings.

The rather average single Supersoaker kicks things off in traditional rocking style, but it’s fairly unremarkable and leans towards the radio rock of the ‘Only By The Night’ album. Rock City, by contrast, opens with an excellent guitar solo alongside a ticking beat, its stop-start construction highlighting the superb guitar work.  

Upbeat rocker Don’t Matter appears next, recalling the guitar pattern of T.Rex’s ‘Get It On’ during the chorus before another mind-bending solo places heavy reliance on Matthew’s noodlings once again. The quite excellent slowie Beautiful War is a clear highlight, with a galloping drumbeat and ringing guitars that evoke comparisons with U2’s The Edge.

The pace picks up again for Temple but altogether it’s a rather uneventful radio-friendly number. The album’s second single, Wait For Me, is another gem of a ballad in the same vein as Use Somebody. The blues-tinged rocker Family Tree is built on a repetitive descending guitar riff, with the able rhythm section and vocal components creating a sound more reminiscent of the band’s earlier stylings.

Comeback Story is one of the weakest songs here, a slow country-tinged effort formed around a chorus containing some baffling lyrics: “I’ll walk a mile in your shoes, now I’m a mile away, and I’ve got your shoes.” Tonight carries on in the same vein, albeit with a stronger, more passionate chorus, before Coming Back Again provides another bouncing moment for gig-goers with its catchy riff.  On The Chin then rounds things off in slow, comfortable and safe style, with the instrumental break providing the only respite.

With ‘Mechanical Bull’, Kings Of Leon appear to be caught in two minds, with the odd moment of blues-rock surfacing among the gloss. For them to truly be considered among the best bands in the world, then the focus must be on trying to nail down their true identity and going for it. They no longer have anything to prove to anyone.





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