Preacher’s sons who grew up on the road and laid down the holy-roller boogie in churches across the South, Kings of Leon come by their scuffed, scruffy sound honestly. But the title of their debut album, Youth and Young Manhood, is slightly misleading. One would expect these little red roosters, who range in age from sixteen to twenty-three, to be strutting their fine stuff with hyperexuberance, the outsize virility of boys testing their boundaries and the world’s. But instead, they come on like old-school greasers who’ve been around long enough to know how to savor a moment.
The thrill is in the groove. Some of the time that means jacked-up garage punk, as the group tumbles down a “Spiral Staircase” and greets the “Red Morning Light” with bloodshot conviction. But the Kings are also a Southern rhythm section to their core: They know when to lay back and let things simmer, and when to jump up and testify with tambourines banging. Guitar-playing in this band is not about Southern-rock virtuosity in the Allmans mold but about staggering-drunk solos that suggest calamity is just around the corner (dig that firecracker dance in “Happy Alone”) or ooze blues slop until it melts into feedback (“Dusty”).
Leadman 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’s either just had sex or is dreaming about it, never more so than on “Molly’s Chambers.” Mannish boys, they do grow up fast.