Drowned in Sound: Kings of Leon - Because of the Times

Drowned in Sound
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

Although they've become rock revivalists today, Tennessee's Kings of Leon have spent their lives connected to revivals. As the three sons (plus one nephew) of a former Pentecostal preacher named Leon Followill, they seem unlikely candidates for a rough-edged rock band. Yet they are more than capable and show no signs of stopping with their third full-length, Because of the Times.
There's little going on here that's special lyrically, but to concentrate on the words is to miss the point of Kings of Leon: vibe. Because of the Times is absolutely brimming with vibe. Take the opener "Knocked Up," which seems tailor-made for a night drive in the countryside. For anyone who has ever been in farm country, don't be surprised if the scent of hay instantly comes back to you. Conversely, "Fans" is the soundtrack for sun beaming through roadside trees. Few bands understand the power of atmosphere, and to hear it done so perfectly is a rare treat. The apparently analog production helps, adding just a little tape static when the band is quiet.
The southern rock influence is authentic, though more than a little twisted. Lynyrd Skynyrd through a noise-rock filter would not be a bad analogy, especially because frontman Caleb Followill sounds like Ronnie Van Zant with a little more cracking and clipping. He even conjures country hymn singing in "The Runner," a pleasant surprise that highlights a gloriously imperfect voice. His roughness hurts only on "Charmer," where his yelping is about as appealing as the vocals on Depression-era blues recordings.
But you can't have good countrified rock without riffs, and Kings of Leon are happy to deliver. "Black Thumbnail" has a mammoth classic rock chorus, "My Party" is an album-defining freak-out with prominent distorted bass work, and "Camaro" throws in a dash of Hendrix for good measure. In fact, bassist Jared Followill quickly becomes the unsung hero of the album. He rarely takes prominence in the mix, opting instead to snake around the guitar lines or softly insist upon the groove. Jared's uncanny sense of melody also makes him stand out in ways even funk bassists can fail at.
Kings of Leon do show their indie credentials quickly; they're a rare classic rock-influenced band that doesn't hesitate to step back if it suits the moment. "Ragoo" even betrays a touch of reggae influence, absent from any of the rock that came out in the 70s. The softer side becomes a weakness later in the album, as the down-tempo songs become more and more dominant.
Eventually, Because of the Times falls short of greatness as it slows down. Because of this, there just aren't enough memorable tracks; however, this sameness conceals a buried treasure. That is the closer "Arizona," a song that seems unremarkable at first but grows to be something truly impressive. With just a little time, Kings of Leon can make an impression that suggests greater things to come.
Rating: 3 out of 5