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Kings of Leon
Only By The Night Julian Marszalek , September 29th, 2008 10:01

Kings of Leon - Only By The Night

The suspicion that Kings Of Leon were too good to be true has lingered from the moment their 'Holy Roller Novocaine' EP came riding in on the back of The Strokes’ coattails; when you’re talking more about the story than the music then something must be up, right? A publicist’s wet dream, the tale of three brothers and one cousin who’d been dragged across the Deep South from one Pentecostal revivalist meeting to another by their preacher father before succumbing to the lure of rock’n’roll is one that relies on a black and white world of good versus evil.

But hey, it’s not as if we’re discussing the dichotomy that lies at the heart of Jerry Lee Lewis. If anything, the theory remained that Louie Walsh had finally made good his promise of manufacturing a rock band in the way that he’d fashioned his pretty boys from the Emerald Isle and unleashed them on an unsuspecting world.

And yet…and yet…Kings Of Leon confounded all expectations. In the wake of the cull that struck down the laughably named New Rock Revolution, no one expected a second album from the Followill clan, nor indeed a third that found a band growing, maturing and finding its own voice. The wrinkles that found a band clearly out of its depth headlining Reading Festival in 2005 had been ironed out and against all odds and the predictions of the naysayers, Kings Of Leon were big news with the venues and crowds to match.

Indeed, the news that Kings Of Leon were ready to roll out their fourth album so soon after its predecessor and a convincing turn on the Pyramid Stage at the end of Glastonbury’s first day suggested a band on a roll and ready to take on all comers. Yet the feeling generated by Only By The Night reveals a band caught in a state of flux and pensive reflection; instead of punching the air in triumph, Kings Of Leon are pausing to hesitate and consider their place in their world.

As 'Closer' rolls out its techno (yes, really!) whoops, two things become apparent. The first is a shift in sound that’s wider and more grandiose than anything they’ve attempted before. Their time with U2 has clearly left its mark but there remains an emotional and spiritual emptiness that implies that all is not well with the clan. Or, as Caleb Followill has it, “…years of chasing/taking its toll.”

Not that Only By The Night is a litany of the usual moaning from a band seeking life on the road as source of inspiration. Caleb may well cry out on “Cold Desert”, “Jesus don’t love me/No one ever carried my load/I’m too young to feel this old” but the overall mood is one of consideration rather than resignation.

It’s precisely this frame of mind that permeates the eleven songs contained here, and consequently the album is in short supply where the rockers that made their name are concerned. This is why 'Sex On Fire' feels more like post-coital regret rather than a steamily sordid encounter or why 'Revelry' is anything but. Something’s gnawing insistently and remorselessly at the Kings Of Leon and the feeling that even they don’t know what it is is tangible.

Only By The Night is an admirable attempt to come terms with rapid ascendancy by a band content with a slower and more manageable pace and in all probability will come to be seen as a steeping stone for whatever comes next. A minor hangover from the party that caused it, Kings Of Leon are taking stock as they consolidate and regroup. That they’re doing so in public and with the minimum of navel gazing is another feather to their bow.