Kings Of Leon – Come Around Sundown
It’s difficult to believe that Kings Of Leon was once commonly described as a Southern-fried Strokes, crafting pop music by merging rough-and-tumble country and garage rock. Yet, the brothers Followill moved away from this over the years toward a more arena-ready sound, and by 2008’s Only By The Night, they had become genuine international superstars with the album reaching the Top Ten in over a dozen countries. Did the merit of Only By The Night really justify its success? Not quite. But regardless of whether or not one embraced the direction the band took, it’s hard to deny why singles such as “Use Somebody” or “Notion” became inescapable in 2009. They were urgent, arena-ready crowd pleasers, with Caleb Followill positioned as a rougher-edged Bono. In light of such success, however, Kings Of Leon is faced with a dilemma. Do they continue proudly into mainstream rock stardom, or do they retreat backwards, trying to recapture the early audience they had all but lost? Well, it seems that fame was all too tempting, and 2010’s Come Around Sundown is their most sweeping, stadium-filling set of songs yet.
Yes, the ghost of U2 hangs over this album, just as on Only By The Night, but unlike that album, there are no real obvious singles here. This isn’t the result of an album that is self-consciously uncommercial—quite the opposite, really. Rather, the majority of these songs never really take off, bouncing around hooks that don’t dig as deep as they should. True to the album art, Come Around Sundown does feel more relaxed than KoL was previously, even if the palette they use is still dark. The songs plod along with a self-assured swagger and rarely differ much from the same general format. The format, of course, being shimmering, reverb-heavy guitar riffs that surround Caleb’s yelping voice, which unfortunately loses more feeling than it should in this slick musical setting. To be fair, this streamlined sound can be exciting at first, but since the songs often feel so similar, it wears out its welcome fast. Where the album succeeds is when the Followills take a few risks. The gospel-tinged lead single “Radioactive” and the doo wop that flavors “Mary” are among the standouts. Elsewhere, the loose “Beach Side” nicely conjures a dreamy atmosphere, but “Back Down South”‘s twangy country accents never add up to much, making the song feel like a missed opportunity. Aside from these tracks, the bulk of the album is frustratingly middle ground: the harder songs don’t have enough bite, and the surfier, more relaxed songs have too much, leaving potentially good tracks feeling bland. Come Around Sundown will most likely please many Kings Of Leon fans converted by Only By The Night. At the same time, however, it is a rather mediocre holding pattern, one that is unlikely to generate the same amount of success the band garnered before.