A few years ago, mentioning that you were excited about a new Kings Of Leon album would have been met more than a few raised eyebrows. By the time that Come Around Sundown was looming on the horizon, even frontman Caleb Followill admitted he had 'checked out' from band duties.
Having wandered so far from the dusty dirt track and landing bang in the middle of the road, Kings Of Leon had gradually morphed from a game-changing rock revolution into a lame dinosaur. It was Kings-Of-Leon-by-numbers and left many fans yawning and seeking their thrills elsewhere.
But with the promise of returning to the energy of their roots, that twinkling spark in the eyes of Kings Of Leons fan returned. Can Caleb Followill and his rag-tag Tennesse foursome live up to their own standards and fulfill the potential that once shone so brightly? Let's hope so...
And we're off. Dripping with rock n' roll sepia tones, the lead single and opening track from Mechanical Bull packs all the punches that the band once promised, with the quickfire charm of their earlier work met with the easy stadium anthemics of their past few albums. Can the album maintain this momentum?
No, this is probably not an ode to Nottingham's most infamous sweat-box venue, but instead the sound of Kings Of Leon rocking off the cobwebs of complacency and kicking back with the sleazy urgency that we first fell in love with.
"I was running through the desert, I was looking for drugs and I was searching for a woman who was willing to love," pines Caleb over a scorching guitar that bathes the early part of an album in a warming glow. Not entirely original, but simply Kings of Leon doing what they do best: swaying with a fistful of whiskey and spitting into the sunset.
With sharp guitars, beefy bass and some pretty razor-sharp rhythms, this could easily be lifted from a Queens Of The Stone Age album, and that ain't a bad thing by any means. It's not too difficult to imagine Caleb with lip curled, racing through the desert chanelling the spirit of Josh Homme on this absolute belter that will certainly become a highlight of their live set.
Written on the same weekend as 'Use Somebody' back in 2008, 'Beautiful War' aches with that same haunting and sentimental longing, but without caving in to the needs of daytime radio or Coldplay fans. Turn down the house lights and get those lighters in the air for this future favourite.
"The dancefloor's a temptress, can't make out what you're saying," growls Caleb beneath a slightly Britpop-esque guitar line. Yes, it's that same KoL fare of dancing, sex and violence, and while pleasant enough, seems a little pedestrian and does little to lift Mechanical Bull to any higher level. It's quite forgettable.
'Wait for Me'
In what's pretty likely to be the 'Use Somebody' of the album, 'Wait For Me' is certainly one for the lovers out there but with the rolling ease of anything from Aha Shake Heartbreak or Youth And Young Mahood, this is nowhere quite as contrived.
Oof! That's exactly what KoL fans have been waiting for since 2007. Kicking off with a little old-school Kings' bravado and rolling drums, 'Family Tree' rumbles with the quiet-loud-quiet-loud country-meets-Pixies chemistry of their Because Of The Times material before exploding with an undeniably infectious chorus that simply screams with future single material. Not only a highlight of the album but a searing and essential future Kings of Leon classic.
The lyric 'comeback story of a lifetime' seems gloriously fitting for the refreshing return to form that Mechanical Bull represents, if only this track weren't so dull and forgettable. It's worth a listen though simply for the chorus of "I'd walk a mile in your shoes, now I'm a mile away and I've got your shoes" - who says that Kings of Leon don't have a sense of humour?
"Tonight, somebody's lover is gonna pay for his sin," howls Caleb in one of KoL's most arresting verses. Alas, the promise fades in a flate dirge of a chorus, robbing the track of all momentum. Shame.
'Coming Back Again'
Yay, that's more like it. A fast shimmying intro brings KoL back towards the peak in a tale of lust, hedonism, "rose wine and skinny cigarrettes". Perfect for those moments towards the end of the set, this is the sound of Tennesse at its most explosive and volatile. As Caleb spits "I can feel it coming back again," you can't help but agree. Keep it up, lads.
'On the Chin'
Quite a departure from the rest of the record, 'On The Chin' is a whiskey-soaked country number that swoons with nostalgia and blooms into an epic but brief lament. It's a pretty perfect closer, and while it leaves the listener with the comforting satisfaction that the band are back on form, one can't help but question why they didn't take similar risks throughout the rest of the album.
This is probably the closest that Kings Of Leon will ever come to pleasing all of their fans. The old-school followers will find something is the laissez-faire rock n'roll kicks that first, while the late arrivals among us will enjoy more than a few radio friendly stadium-pleasers. But it's in that balance that lies the one and only major flaw of the record: you've heard it all before. It lacks that volatile brilliance that once made them so special, but don't let that stop you enjoying this record for what it is: a surprising and consistently fun listen.
Mechanical Bull certainly marks the best material that we've heard from the Tenesse rockers since Because Of The Times, and while they may be firmly in their comfort zone, the love and passion that they've found in their own sound again is apparant. Either way, it's a damn site better than anything The Strokes have released in the last few years.