By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
If it weren't for their obnoxious singer and idiotic lyrics, Kings of Leon might be--well, hard to say--pretty tolerable? Drummer Nathan Followill gets some good chug-a-chugga motion going, lead guitarist Matthew Followill has a smart, nuthin'-fancy tone and a half-dozen good hooks stuffed down his hip-hugging jeans (waist size 28?), Jared Followill's bass playing is in the pocket and melodic, and Caleb Followill's rhythm guitar playing is at least better than his singing. Were these guys friends of my younger half-brother, I'd come up after the show, say, "You guys were tight!" and mean it. Listen carelessly to the good-timey "King of the Rodeo," or the groovy whiskey-dick lament called "Soft," or the instrumental break from "Rememo," nicked in part from the Beatles' "Flying," and you might even derive some pleasure from this well-arranged crap. But of course life's too short to listen to music carelessly.
In case you've avoided the hype about these frequently well-reviewed college-aged Tennessee brothers and a cousin, the three Kings of Leon siblings were raised by a no-good traveling evangelist. That picaresque bio seems to make their fresh-faced sleaze interesting to clueless English rock critics who dream of growing up to become psychologists, sociologists, or people with better taste in music. The spin goes something like this: Imagine what the Strokes would sound like if they'd been raised by the Robert Mitchum character from Night of the Hunter. And then imagine that the results are better than they really are.
Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA) serves up less Dixie and more NYC than the Kings' more boogie-ish and also shitty debut full-length Youth & Young Manhood. On this latest album, the boys spend a lot of time sport fucking young city girls and reveling in their decadent hick status--although "reveling" isn't quite it, since this is joyless, mean decadence. One of the tunes is called "Pistol of Fire" (original title: "My Cock"), which sums up the album's conceptual jizz. I mean "gist."
Holy Moses, these lyrics are awful! Youth is no excuse! "He's so the purity, a shaven and a mourning/And standing on a pigeon toe, in his disarray," from "King of the Rodeo," suggests that Caleb read the first page of Ulysses at his one-night-only girlfriend's house, passed out after not being able to achieve orgasm, and woke up 12 hours later with cotton mouth and a grudge about not being invited back to bed.
"Huffman don't take no nonsense/He's here to rectify/He's got his black belt buckle/and the red man's fire in his eye," Followill snarls on the tough-talkin' "Four Kicks," which might intimidate a trio of blindfolded 11-year-old vegans. Some other howlers, among many: "I left you with your nose a-bleedin'/And your toes creepin' around" (ooh, what a bad boy); "I don't feel comfortable talking to you/Unless you got my zipper fixed on my shoe" (apparently sung to a cobbler--but who wears shoes with zippers?); "She saw my comb-over, her hourglass body/She has problems with drinking milk/And being school tardy" (sung in character as an old pedophile, not because these guys expect to turn into a crafty character portraitist like Randy Newman but because they expect to turn into old pedophiles).
Some of that garbage might fly if brother Caleb weren't such a miserably affected singer. He pronounces "can" like it rhymes with "done," and "good" like it's the first syllable of "Gouda," and always sings as if he's looking in the mirror. By the time he moans "ki-ill me, ki-ill me," on the Cobain-y "Milk," one is forgiven for thinking: Well, that would be immoral and illegal, but you're definitely onto something.