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Monday 18 December 2017

Hail to the Kings

Exclusive: Verdict on the new album from one of rock's biggest bands

Despite a cutesy shaggy-dog look, an aura of surliness, suspicion and defensiveness -- bred, one suspects, from being raised in one of the old slave states -- made Kings of Leon an unlikely proposition for stardom when they arrived with their debut album, Youth and Young Manhood, in 2003.

At that time, the arbiters of pop style were fixated on pretty New York pin-ups The Strokes. So an itinerant family band, whose singer sounded as if he was delivering each song through a mouthful of grits, corn liquor and a clay pipe, seemed both uncool and uncouth by comparison.

Europe, demanding something earthy and fresh, welcomed the brothers Followill (and cousin Matthew) with open arms. And in many cases, if the carnal content of the songs on their follow-up album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, can be trusted, open legs. One of the band described that bristling album as "our hangover".

Since then, other bands have come and gone. But Kings of Leon made the switch from bars to arenas. Two years ago, their Only By Night album delivered the tipping point hits, Use Somebody and Sex On Fire.

Kings Of Leon had grown into multi-million-selling stadium rockers but were they happy? Not completely.

Fractious as ever, they still notched up more damaging internal band punch-ups than Oasis. And 28-year-old Caleb Followill appeared to find the band's growing legion of fans unappealing. Churlishly, he described the band's breakthrough hit Sex On Fire as a "piece of s**t".

After the clean, radio-friendly, lines of Only By Night, these 13 new songs come as a surprise. But those of us who know the quartet to be stubborn as mules probably should have guessed they weren't going to fully embrace the stadium rock songwriting template. Instead, the band opted for an uneasy alliance between their four distinct competing inner voices. Did they fall between four stools?

A rock band devoid of tension equals light entertainment. But Kings Of Leon still seethe like a pit of boiling sulphur.

It's difficult to second guess market forces these days, so who can predict whether or not this will top the six million sales of their last album? Luckily, our job, yours and mine, is simply to enjoy the music where we can. And there's plenty to digest on Come Around Sundown.

The sonic landscape is as atmospheric as on Only By The Night. The influence of The Pixies and U2 seep through, but the band appear to have embraced some added strands of rock'n'roll's rootsy past.

Embellishing their indie consciousness adds a further layer of intrigue to a compelling story that could yet have some way to run.

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