Kings of Leon
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
(Stream the album)
In the tradition of titles like A Clockwork Orange, the Kings of Leon’s Mechanical Bull sums up the main ingredients of their new album in two words. “Mechanical,” of course, represents the technology any rock band needs from the guitars, amps, mics, drums, to control boards. “Bull” is the hard-charging organic creativity heard in the exuberant Springsteen-esque lead vocals of Caleb Followill and the polished musicianship of the rest of the band. On another level, the Kings of Leon aren’t exactly unrestrained bulls rushing around the China shop, but are rather a tightly disciplined and practiced machine who now know how to give us an extremely listenable if unremarkable musical program.
The current direction of the band continues to be an energetic, affirmative breed of rock suitable for all generations, especially for older listeners not drawn to trends that are currently in vogue. After 10 years of making records, they know how to knock out catchy singles like “SuperSoaker” and “Wait For Me” and produce crunching guitar workouts like “It Don’t Matter.” Even when they craft songs bordering on ballads like “Walk A Mile,” they can be melodic but rarely slow. “Beautiful War” might be a love song, but Nathan Followill’s drums sound very martial as Caleb repeats the refrain, “Love ain’t nothing unless there’s something worth fighting for.” Only once, on the countrified album closer, “On The Chin,” does the pace slow down for a song that doesn’t really fit the overall flow of the set. Nice ditty, though.
Mechanical Bull is the Followills’ sixth studio album, once again with longtime producer Angelo Petraglia. It’s a logical successor to their 2010 Come Around Sundown. In part, that’s due to Matthew Followill’s guitar work that is now making the Kings of Leon sound a bit more arena rock than their bluesier days. In songs like “Tonight” and “Coming Back Again,” for example, the guitars of both Matthew and Caleb Followill are very reminiscent of the open chords of U2 anthems. Once, the Kings of Leon were a surprising entry in the Southern/garage rock sweepstakes. They were once a seriously needed breath of fresh air. Now, they’re a comfortable fit, engaging without edge, listenable but not memorable. Still, if you like the Kings of Leon and the kind of rock perfect for any social occasion, Mechanical Bull should get your party in the groove. By design, Mechanical Bull was made for fun, and in that spirit, they succeeded.