Only By The Night

Free from their strict Pentecostal father, Kings of Leon's Followill brothers (plus cousin Matthew) spent their first two records establishing themselves as horny Nashville youngsters with a neo-garage-rock style that got them tagged as the "Southern Strokes." Nowadays, the Kings are feeling a different sound: Like last year's Because of the Times, Only by the Night is long on astral, arena-ready largeness, with blippy keyboards, droney guitars and whoa-oh-oh backing vocals. Frontman Caleb Followill cranks up his Allman Brothers howl, turning out big choruses with sometimes tough-to-parse lyrics and deep-feeling melodies reportedly influenced by pain meds he began taking after shoulder surgery. The revamped sound doesn't always work: Cuts like the slow-burning murk-fest "Cold Desert" feel like sub-John Mayer soul — bland and overly ponderous. But when the Kings find a gussied-up groove with teeth — like the effects-laden Zeppelin stomp of "Crawl" or the pulsating, New Wave "Sex on Fire" — they sound like rock heroes experiencing the joy of well-manicured sound.