Once known for their gritty attitude, when Kings Of Leon first arrived they were whiskey guzzling, dirty haired musicians who wrote kick-ass rock and blues and did not seem to give a shit. Subsequent success toned down that image quite a lot and emerging from a NYC salon with model girlfriends and the overplayed ‘Use Somebody’ on repeat, it seemed that what once felt natural was now a forced endeavour. Produced by longtime collaborator, Angelo Petraglia (who first appeared on Youth & Young Manhood a decade ago) thankfully Mechanical Bull the band’s first truly honest album since Because Of The Times. It’s predecessors, Only By The Night and Come Around Sundown may have more pristine but it seemed certain aspects were sacrificed for radio-friendly singles and trendy southern-belle inspired folk-rock.
First single, ‘Supersoaker’ opens the record with a muddy tone, reminiscent of albums past. An immediate indication that the boys have melded the shimmering production values of super-stardom with their original roots of rock and blues, it’s music that has you believe you’re under the influence even when you’re not. ‘Rock City’ continues in what some could argue an even bolder statement of intent. A blues lead traipses around a simple beat, giving way to a chipper vocal line with a cadence not heard since Y&YM. It’s a return to form for a band that were once known for imprinting four individual signatures on one track.
With a muddy riff that could be taken straight from a QOTSA album ‘Don’t Matter’ seems to bolster the idea that Homme’s influence is everywhere in the 2013 releases. The monotone vocals are supplemented nicely by one of the most phrenetic solo’s heard from Matthew Followill since ‘Four Kicks’; it’s around this mark that long-time fans become giddy. Arpeggiated chords are a trademark of Kings Of Leon ballads, and ‘Beautiful War’ is no different. Ascribing to the huge anthemic progressions of the older ‘Pyro’ or ‘Trunk’, this track begs to be placed among them. Melancholic harmonics and ethereal notes sustain for what seems like an age as the frontman sings, “when I hold the warmth of your body, there is nobody that I’d rather hold. Shattered and cold.”
‘Wait For Me’ is a simply beautiful, blues rock ballad, better than the last. Imbibed in the sex appeal of Kings of Leon and heightened by the huge arrangement, layered with the twinkling fretwork of cousin Matt. If ‘Supersoaker’ is the balls of the Mechanical Bull, ‘Wait For Me’ is certainly the heart of the beast. ‘Family Tree’ is the most overtly Nashville-esque; lead by the fraternal rhythmic pairing of Jared and Nathan, Caleb Followill’s dual vocals add a bass to his tone that hasn’t been touched upon in his career yet but should be played upon for future releases. The song ends with a group recital of the catch: “I am your family tree, I know your A to Z, This is a secret proposition, lay your hands on me”.
If any criticism could be offered it’s that Mechanical Bull peaks too soon and the last few songs, while good are nothing new. ‘Comeback Story’ focuses on an old joke, “I walk a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a mile away, and I’ve got your shoes”; a silly premise but the musical accompaniment of classical Kings along with some nicely placed strings gives it a place on the album at least; it may even be a humorous take on their return from the dark side.
There’s something warmly familiar about this album and while Kings of Leon haven’t really broken any new ground, they’ve refined an older sound and brought it into a new decade. Mechanical Bull won’t be the album to make a career but for once it’s a comeback worth listening to.