Holy Roller Novocaine (RCA, 2003)
Youth and Young Manhood (RCA, 2003)
Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA, 2005)
Because of the Times (RCA, 2007)
Only by the Night (RCA, 2008)
Preacher's sons who grew up on the road, laying down the holy-roller boogie in churches across the South, Kings of Leon come by their scuffed, scruffy sound honestly. They rolled out their southern-tinged Strokes sound on their debut EP, the very solid Holy Roller Novocaine. But Youth and Young Manhood was where these little red roosters, who range in age from 16 to 23, really kicked down the door, already sounding like old-school greasers who've been around long enough to know how to savor a moment. The Kings are also a hot rhythm section: They know when to lay back and let things simmer or when to jump up and testify with tambourines banging. Their staggering-drunk guitar solos either suggest calamity is just around the corner (dig that firecracker dance in "Happy Alone") or ooze blues slop until it melts into feedback ("Dusty"). Frontman Caleb Followill doesn't sing so much as slouch into his narratives of waywardness. On "Trani," he sounds so busted up he can barely hold a conversation, and it only magnifies the sense of dissolution. Most of the time, every slur and mumble sounds as if he either has just had sex or is dreaming about it, never more so than on "Molly's Chambers." Mannish boys, they do grow up fast.
On Aha Shake Heartbreak, the grown-up Kings sound as if they've been listening to a lot of British art punk. The fuzzed-up garage rock is still evident on tracks like "Four Kicks" and songs like the dark, swaggering "Taper Jean Girl" drip with dark, sexual tension. But elsewhere they lay down angular, minimalist rhythms that sometimes recall Wire ("King of the Rodeo") and other times Gang of Four ("Razz"). The band got bigger, thicker production on Because of the Times, where they continue exploring minimalist art rock on the Pixies-like "Charmer" but employ a more muscular guitar sound on pop-rockers like "True Love Way."
The Kings dove headlong into mainstream arena rock on Only by the Night, which begins with electronic bleeps on "Closer" and some feedback and noise on "Crawl" but turns fully anthemic on the pop hit "Use Somebody," which is built on a Journey-like melody and air-guitar-worthy solo. The rhythms and ideas are still interesting, but the album feels entirely calculated to catapult the Kings to the mega-stardom. It worked: The disc eventually peaked at Number Four.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies