Where exactly is rock ‘n’ roll going?
Maybe the question should be, what has rock ‘n’ roll done for me lately?
For some, these inquires may lead to epiphanies that alter a whole new way of thinking about the world, and their role in it.
Like the first time a college student in 1965 went into his or her dorm room and heard Bob Dylan sing “Like a Rolling Stone” or like when the teenager circa 1990, contemplating the overwhelming ambiguity of adolescence, hears the first few seconds of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” these game changers have induced potent emotions in the music lover in all of us.
Often when it appears that rock ‘n’ roll seems dead, a new wave of creative input disperses what will forever be imbedded in the collective conscious. We’re like bees going back to hives – we need the honey; we need our rock ‘n’ roll.
When Kings of Leon, a band of brothers and their cousin, broke onto the scene with 2003’s “Youth and Young Manhood,” visions of the sacred rock ‘n’ roll torch that passed between generations was thought to have been passed on to these sons of a preacher man from the bucolic pastures of Tennessee.
After “Aha Shake Heartbreak” earned the band commercial success and garnered more fans from across the pond, they decided to go mainstream with their drenched in reverb, tight leather pant-wearing commercial breakthrough, “Only by the Night,” and abandoned their fans and left them with the feeling of catching a girlfriend or boyfriend cheating with one of the popular kids.
Two subpar albums and a concert stage breakdown later, Kings of Leon have a lot at stake, not only with their fans, but also to sustain importance as one of the best bands going today.
With their newest release, “Mechanical Bull,” the band attempts to regain the creative urgency that was instilled in their first two albums. Chatter from bassist Jared Followill at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas proclaimed that the sixth LP will harken back to the early albums, but after first listen, that promise is only half fulfilled.
The record starts out with the new single “Supersoaker,” a song that recalls past glories, and is similar to “Taper Jean Girl” from “Aha Shake Heartbreak.” In the song you can hear lead singer Caleb Followill’s voice cracking and hollering, and it sounds magnificent.
The song is proof that along with Jack White and Liam Gallagher, Caleb has one of the most distinct voices in music today. Moments like “Supersoaker” are sporadic throughout the album, but when they hit you, you know. Your instincts inform you of their brilliance when you listen to the southern soul stomper “Family Tree,” the Creedence-esque “Don’t Matter” or the melodic U2-influenced “Beautiful War.”
These tunes aside, the Kings pack some duds along the way.
“Rock City” begins with Caleb yelping, “I was running through the desert/ I was looking for drugs and I was searching for a woman/ who was willing to love.”
I can envision Jim Morrison, or Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison in the film “The Doors,” depending on your predilection, uttering this line with a great deal of conviction, but Caleb sounds like a charlatan and the rest of the album never lives up to the youthful exploits that it promises.
“Mechanical Bull” finds the band looking toward the future, and perhaps these songs will translate better on tour, but for now we are left with another unsatisfying album from the Followills.