About the time the world was ready to anoint them the Redneck Strokes, the Kings of Leon decided they’d much rather be the Redneck U2, so they followed 2005’s rollicking Aha Shake Heartbreak with an album called Because of the Times which was still pretty good. They followed that album with an album that, according to their website, “catapulted the band into the mainstream.” It was called Only By the Night and it featured a really terrible song called “Use Somebody” that is second only to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” in the radio saturation department. So where does a band go after being catapulted into the mainstream by an annoying hit (on an otherwise pretty okay record)? Apparently, they make Come Around Sundown.
Fans of the first two Kings of Leon records who cried “sellout” by the end of Because of the Times will probably not find much to change their tune on Come Around Sundown. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to believe that Aha Shake Heartbreak is far and away the best Kings of Leon album, but I also think the Followill family (a bunch of brothers and I think one cousin) is fairly earnest in their motivations – that is, I think they’re making the albums that they want to make and those albums just happen to contain radio-friendly arena rock. Their first two albums contain slightly less radio-friendly (although the radio does play “The Bucket” every once in a while, which is happy news for people who enjoy fun) drunken-rapscallion rock that’s good for starting bar fights that turn into orgies and/or riots. You can tell by that last sentence which type of rock I prefer, but I’m not gonna start hating the Kings of Leon just because millions of people like them now.
In fact, there’s almost something delightfully subversive about the best songs on Come Around Sundown – “Pickup Truck” is a power ballad, but it’s about beating the shit out of your ex-girlfriend’s new guy because you see the shiny look in her eyes when she sees him. To my knowledge, Nickelback and Coldplay don’t have songs like that (partly because absolutely no one believes that Chris Martin could beat anyone in a fight). The song is even better if you decide, as I have done, that this song is based one hundred percent in fact. I believe that Caleb Followill was hanging out with his ex, maybe he came by to pick up his old Lynyrd Skynyrd records (or, more likely, his old U2 records. “All I Want is You” was probably their song), and then her new guy pulls into the driveway in a teal green Toyota Tacoma, gunning the engine to let her know he’s home and it’s time for some Weinerschnitzel, a little DVR’ed Grey’s Anatomy, and then some smoking hot missionary sex. Followill can’t miss the look of lust in the woman’s eyes as she sees her new man who, unlike poor Caleb, is clean-shaven and willing to accompany her to the midnight premiere of Morning Glory. This is too much for our hero so he taunts Shiny New Boyfriend with, “You call that a pickup truck?” SNB can only get out the “Wha…” in “What are you talking about?” before Caleb Followill is on him, punching, kicking, screaming, and crying, pounding SNB’s shiny, hairless face into mush while sobbing, “You call that a pickup truck? Huh, motherfucker? Is that what you call it? Because I call it an open invitation to an ass-whooping.” Sure, this isn’t gonna get Followill his girl back, but there’s just no other way for a rough-and-tumble Tennessee rocker to say, “I miss you, baby. Please come home.”
Come Around Sundown, thank goodness, doesn’t really have a “Use Somebody.” If there is any justice in the world, “Mary” will be the biggest hit off of this album so that the Kings of Leon have an incentive to continue making songs that fucking awesome. Sadly, I’m predicting that the biggest hit off of Come Around Sundown will be a tune called “Radioactive” that I’m sure will mean something to some people, even though it is a completely meaningless song. Having listened to it several times now, I’m pretty sure it’s about a cult in your hometown; Caleb Followill sings, “Just drink the water/ where you came from.” It’s either cultish or an exhortation to drink your mom’s pee, which is the sort of thing that would be more at home on an Old Kings of Leon record.
I do feel that it might be helpful to sort out the Old Kings of Leon from the New Kings of Leon, for those who are having trouble deciding which is better (though both have their charms). The Old Kings of Leon, I think, would’ve almost certainly written a song about how bassist Jared Followill got pegged in the face by pigeon shit in St. Louis – there is no such song on Come Around Sundown. The New Kings of Leon don’t sing about bird shit, but they will still sing songs about a friend who “tells me I’ve got a big ol’ dick” (“Mi Amigo,” which is probably the best song on Come Around Sundown). The New Kings of Leon, like the Old Kings of Leon, have songs about fucking – they just don’t sound like they’re songs about fucking (the songs on Aha Shake Heartbreak are, if memory serves, all about either fucking or fighting. One is about a serious medical condition known as Whiskey Dick). They sound like sort of generic radio songs, until you really get the lyrics – which gets us back to that whole subversive thing I was talking about earlier. The song “Back Down South”, which appears on Come Around Sundown, would have been about performing cunnilingus on an Old Kings of Leon record – for the New Kings of Leon, it’s about literally heading back down South, presumably to Tennessee. So the distinction is probably pretty clear.
This is not to say that New Kings of Leon (whose recorded output, it should be noted, now outnumbers that of the Old Kings of Leon) and Come Around Sundown aren’t enjoyable. They most certainly are. Come Around Sundown isn’t going to rotate as heavily through my playlist as, say, High Violet, but it’s a fun record that starts out pretty weak (opener “The End” is one of those meaningless songs that I’m sure someone will haughtily point out to me is meaningful after all. And it’s followed by “Radioactive,” which, as previously mentioned, sucks) and ends pretty strong. If you had room in your heart for both the Old and the New Kings of Leon, it’s hard for me to see how you’ll have a problem with Come Around Sundown.