Kings of Leon’s WALLS certainly sounds ambitious. Channelling the same sort of youthful energy that made Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs sound so distinctive in 2010 – possibly in part due to their latest producer, Markus Dravs, who worked on the album – the Nashville band seem to be determined to give birth to a comprehensively retro iteration of the Kings of Leon myth, delicately informed by runaway Springsteen rock and punk abandon.
At times, it sounds like a bolder version of some giant lost concept album that The Strokes might have been dreaming up in their bedrooms. It’s an album that desperately wants to be remembered, and, for the most part, it certainly isn’t forgettable.
WALLS’ greatest strength lies in its musical tone. Pitched somewhere between glorious Americana (“you bled out red and blue”) and, on “Around The World”, Of Monsters and Men-style adventure, it’s filled with fairly uninspiring stories of feelings of alienation (“get me out of California”) and self-labelling solidarity (“you’re my misfit/And I’m your freak”). On opener ‘Waste A Moment’, lead vocalist Caleb Followill tears down an empty street “shooting sparks into the night”; on “Over”, he reflects on the correlation between fame and death.
The music does its best to make you ignore them, and it’s clear that Dravs’ influence has resulted in a lot of attention paid to subtle details: the way that late-night ‘Over’ smartly blends into the early-morning, confessional ‘Muchado’; the heartfelt acoustics of the closing title track; the muted guitar lines that introduce ‘Reverend’. Followill’s words grind and hammer out a story for the brain, but his guitar and voice go straight to your heart.
At its best, WALLS is strikingly distinctive. It’s a brave piece of work that bucks the expectation set upon most bands these days to keep quiet and stick with what they’re known for. WALLS explores ideas of connection, disillusionment and intimacy; hardly new ideas, but WALLS lays them out with sympathy and intelligence. “When the walls come down” Followill seems to marvel midway through the closing track, as if making a passing nod to the missing bravado of earlier and bombastic songs like “Sex on Fire”.
It’s a bit dry towards the end and overall far from perfect, but Kings of Leon have succeeded in creating something crisp, confident and genuinely affecting.