In September 2013, NME said that Kings of Leon’s sixth album Mechanical Bulls ‘ … sees them attempting to rediscover their early spark – but falling frustratingly short.’ WALLS may have just followed suite, but in an entirely different way.
After the heavy criticism of the last two albums, it was clear that Kings of Leon needed a change. And that is exactly what they did. The Followill clan made three major changes. Firstly, they changed producers from long-term friend Angelo Petraglia to Marcus Dravs; known for popularising Arcade Fire and Coldplay. Secondly, they went back to Los Angeles to record, something which they have not done since their first two albums. Finally, they abandoned their trademark of having an album with five syllables, although they desperately tried to salvage that tradition by arguing that WALLS was an acronym for We Are Like Love Songs. These changes represented a new Kings of Leon. One that was not desperately trying to rekindle the old flame but at the same time looking to incorporate the essence of their original music. Now that the album has finally been released there are two questions to be answered: have Kings of Leon really changed and is the album any good?
It goes without saying that they have changed. If you were to talk to one of the Followills three years ago the emphasis would categorically be on pleasing the people and being scared of not outputting the correct type of music. That is not the case now. Whilst the music has become more accessible, less ‘Southern Strokes’-esque and far more clean, the band delivers it in a confident manner. This new style will not satisfy the long-term Kings of Leon fans by any means but it will certainly appeal to the rest of their fan base. Certainly more so than their last few albums.
However, is it any good? This all depends on which songs you look at. For example, ‘Waste a moment,’ which is one of their three singles, has everything that has been condemned of the Kings of Leon. It is very much anthem rock, it is filled with the oohs and ahs of lead vocalist Caleb Followill, something that has never been applauded, and was initially intended as a slow song but Dravs asked for it ‘to be played like the Sex Pistols.’ This alteration by Dravs was not necessarily a bad idea but the band did not particularly buy into it and consequently, the song lacks conviction.
The two other singles of the album are ‘Around the world’ and ‘WALLS.’ The former boasts arguably the best guitar riff of the album, something that Dravs was very reluctant to reward Matthew. The tune is sharp, funky and an entertaining listen but the lyrical content is sub-par. ‘WALLS’ is very different to its counterparts; it’s a ballad in which Caleb delivers vocals with more articulation than ever before. It serves as one of the best examples of the new Kings of Leon sound.
The most noteworthy song is undoubtedly ‘Muchacho.’ Initially rejected by Dravs, it was put into the album because of the passion that Caleb had for it. It was written as a eulogy for their late Art Director, Brett Kilroe, who played a huge part in the album covers of the band and was a close friend of Caleb. Whilst it is not at all what you expect of Kings of Leon, Caleb’s delivery is raw and genuine and Matthews clever solo working over the top of the rhythm guitar is exceptional.
WALLS is by no means a disaster, but is in no way a success. There are numerous examples of bad habits that have caused them to lose their essential sound but in all honesty, they have managed to find a new panache, which has been lacking in the previous few albums. It really is what you would expect from a popular but increasingly regressive band under the production of Marcus Dravs: confident but largely Pop-infused. Put it this way, if you enjoyed their first LP, Youth & Young Manhood, it’s very likely you won’t want to touch this album with a stick.
The other songs are Reverend, Find me, Over, Conversation Piece, Eyes on you and Wild.