Album review: Kings of Leon, “Come Around Sundown”

October 20, 2010

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A decade into the new millennium, could there possibly be a hoarier concept in all of popular music than the rafters-rattling, lighters-inspiring arena-rock band?

Though Bono, Mick Jagger, and their $350-a-ticket ilk will be the last ones in the tar pit to admit it, the music world has become a more intimate place, with any hero or heroine worth following a mere Tweet or Facebook update away. The idea of tunes crafted to be heard from the furthest heights of the stadium a city block away from the stage is a bizarre curiosity at best. Yet on their fifth album, the nepotistic Tennessee-bred former Pentecostals who comprise the Kings of Leon are more determined than ever to rock the enormodome like it’s 1972.

Sad to say, the group’s devotion to bigger-is-better bombast has paid off. Since their post-Nirvana origins as “the Southern Strokes,” the three Followill brothers plus cousin Matthew have consistently moved toward the mainstream and away from their never-all-that-edgy-to-begin-with postmodern take on Southern rock and soul, and they’ve been amply rewarded with platinum album sales at a time when that’s a rarity, Victoria’s Secret model fiancées, and arenas filled with Baby Boomers thinking that they’re hip for being there and Gen Y offspring so clueless they actually can listen to “Sex on Fire” with a straight face.

Distasteful thoughts, all of those, but to date, nothing has been as bad as the sub-Creed, 100-percent soul-and-subtlety-free chicken-fried sturm und drang of the 13 tracks and more than 47 minutes of “Come Around Sundown.” Good god, are there really people who think it’s a good idea to mix the very worst impulses of Lynyrd Skynyrd with the most miserable, self-parodying over-indulgences of U2? I mean, besides the Followill family accountants?

Apparently there are, and I don’t really don’t mean to scoff at them. They’re welcome to the grating vocals that somehow manage to be simultaneously growling and whiney, the guitars that leave no fonky soul or blues cliché unpunished, the thundering drums and whomping bass, and a production designed to GRAB YOU BY THE THROAT AND SHAKE YOU, as if that can somehow compensate for the complete lack of anything genuinely exciting in anthems-by-numbers such as “The End,” “Mary,” and “The Immortals.”

And the lyrics—lord, the lyrics! “All the black inside me is slowly seeping from the bone/Everything I cherished is slowly dying or is gone,” goes a typical prognostication from “Pyro.” (Rarely has a band so soggy so often invoked the flaming images.) “Little shaking babies and drunkards seem to all agree/Once the show gets started its bound to be a sight to see.”

Well, it’s a sight you’re welcome to if this really is your thing, but I won’t be joining you. Me, I agree with those pigeons in St. Louis.

Kings of Leon, “Come Around Sundown” (RCA) Rating:.5/4