In an age not so long ago, the Kings of Leon were hugely relevant. Their first three albums were the sound of rock and roll vitality that was so badly needed. In the post-Internet era of music consumerism, their greasy, bearded bravado was seemingly a symbol of authenticity. A few years later, it's hard to hear the swagger once identified in their anthems of whiskey and debauchery. Their three previous outings were all progressive steps toward the sound they've cultivated.
These records eschewed their roughly-hewn rock riffs in favor of reverb-soaked atmospherics and more spacious production, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Album opener "Waste a Moment" sets the template for the record with a propulsive, bass-driven sound and some bright guitars shaped by an arsenal of interwoven aural effects. The verses are promising and set up a big chorus, but the band comes up just short of a memorable hook. The following track "Reverend" improves things slightly with more shimmering guitar arpeggios layered across an aggressive rhythm that leads to a satisfying, explosive chorus, but the album's biggest highlight by far is "Find Me." Here, an intricate guitar riff is cleverly juxtaposed with some much-needed power chords that drive the seriously badass rock groove. The verses feature a subtle, yet immediately infectious vocal hook that will please fans that prefer the band's "Black Thumbnail" to "Radioactive." Unfortunately, the sonic atmosphere tends to get a bit more homogeneous and bland beyond these songs.
"Around the World" is a shallow, pop-driven offering with a slightly danceable beat that's catchy, but it lacks substance – and feels somewhat disingenuous. "Over" is a dark and brooding slow-burner that's mostly forgettable with a languid flow that never reaches any kind of apex. "Wild" breezes along amiably with a wistful melody and a pleasant enough guitar riff, but the chorus finds the band starting to sound tired.
It would be too easy to dismiss this album as an unwelcome departure from their more edgy and daring early output, but in the context of the radio-friendly niche they've created for themselves, WALLS sounds safe and comfortable. The songs coast along with a mellow fluidity that serves to establish a decidedly more mature – if complacent – sound.
Although the band doesn't sound youthful and cocky anymore, they do sound more polished and confident. Fortunately for the band, the album also champions an inoffensive, radio-friendly rock that will surely serve as airwave fodder in the coming months. With WALLS, Kings of Leon further strengthen their foothold in formulaic arena rock. Is that a bad thing? That depends, but if – as this album suggests – they're aiming for notoriety among the ranks of The Eagles or REO Speedwagon, then WALLS is a triumph.
Song You Need To Hear: "Waste A Moment"
Kings of Leon