The Followills have made an album for themselves
Dillon Eastoe
12:29 8th March 2021

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When Kings of Leon took to the Pyramid Stage to headline Glastonbury 2008, their highest charting single to date didn’t even crack the top ten. Indie-darlings lauded by the British music press, even their more expansive 2007 record Because of the Times did nothing to diminish the devil-may-care cool that defined their early releases. A few months on and the brothers (and cousin) Followill were blaring out of every radio station with their smash hits ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Sex on Fire’, forever changing their trajectory. Since then they’ve grappled with the level of global fame and been strained by the tension between their own instincts and the demands of a divided fanbase. On their eighth album, Kings of Leon do away with pressure and expectation and make a record for themselves. 

Recording at home in Nashville with no hard deadline, Followills Matt and Jared have collected a formidable array of vintage amplifiers and analogue synths which combine to give the whole piece a warm, 70s feel. There’s no song here that desperately aims for the back row of a stadium, a recurrent problem as the band got offered larger and larger shows over the past 12 years. 

‘The Bandit’ harks back to the rollicking rock of Aha Shake Heartbreak, ‘Stormy Weather’ rides one of Jared’s funkiest bass lines and is the sound of four people making a cool jam for the hell of it, nothing more and nothing less. Caleb’s playful vocal bounces off dreamy slide guitar from Matthew, who takes a backseat on this record. 

There’s plenty of contemplative affair to brood over though. ‘100,000 People’ sits on a pulsing throb of bassy organ stabs as Caleb explores love and loss through degenerative disease. “Parlor games and 6 o'clock news, Hands of a stranger touching you, Wide awake encased in a dream, Everything is not as it seems”, Caleb’s lyrics are descriptive and yet beautifully ambiguous, testament to how creative a writer he can be when lightning strikes.

‘Golden Restless Age’’s verses veer cleverly between warmth and threat while a driving drum beat keeps pushing the track forwards to a wide open chorus that nonetheless shows restraint (where Caleb would normally pitch for row Z), letting Matt’s searing guitar solo lift the song to a peak in place of any vocal acrobatics. 

These songs paint an accurate enough picture of Kings of Leon in 2021; seemingly done with straining every sinew for an arena anthem, finally comfortable with where they are yet still inquisitive to add new flourishes to their repertoire (even when the equipment and influences are all very retro). When You See Yourself doesn’t approach the creative zenith of those critically-adored early albums and nor will it top the sales of their mid-career commercial peak, but it’s refreshing to hear the band block out outside influences and just make music for the fun of it; after all isn’t that why we fell in love with them in the first place?

When You See Yourself is out now.

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Photo: Press