Kings of Leon - Because of the Times

I'll be honest - when I gave the new Kings of Leon a spin for the first time, I was expecting a crash and burn. I was expecting it to finally be the one I didn't like, the inevitable letdown, the one we wouldn't bother stocking at HGMN. I don't know why, exactly. Maybe I underestimated the band, or maybe I overestimated the rip current of the music world at large. I just figured that they had their nice little run and that they would fade away like most of the rest. Little did I know that not only would I love Because Of The Times, but that I would have to completely re-evaluate my outlook on this band.
Geez, they're so young, and it seems like every decent band is so over-hyped these days. But I'm just too floored by the depth, evolution, and sound of Kings Of Leon to do anything besides applaud them and this album. The first track, "Knocked Up," took me by surprise with its steadily growing, layered intro and raw, emotional vocals. The Followill quartet (three brothers and a cousin) exhibit a refreshing patience and subtlety throughout the album. "Knocked Up" is dotted with noisy moments that serve to enhance the lengthy song's epic feel, and they take their time in constructing the mood of this one. The crunchy intro and wild vocals of "Charmer" more easily recall the furious style of their last album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, but there's an extra edge of maturity and eclecticism. "McFearless" is similarly aggressive and interesting as the band restlessly toys with the song's flexible rhythm. The albums first single, "On Call," is somewhat of a combination of the first two tracks' divergent styles. Still snarling with guitars, the song rides catchy, unforgettable vocals and provocative drums that leap in and out of spacey bass interludes. Equally anthemic sounds dominate the explosively bluesy "Black Thumbnail" and the strutting, Stones-like swagger of "My Party." The upbeat "Camaro" appropriately swings with a starry-eyed Saturday night glide. The marked change in the band is never more evident during the course of the album than on the pining "True Love Way" and the bouncy pop number "Ragoo." They've written some incredibly diverse new songs that display a rapid shift in the band's outlook, and the middle stretch of this album lines up several shining examples. There's a taste of acoustic guitar on "Fans" that gives way to a song of classic structure and style, and "The Runner" is as shuffling and weary as any song that's ever been written. The album-ending "Arizona" holds plenty of melodic and rhythmic sophistication together with sweeping synths and exploratory guitar. Sure, they've got major label backing, and you probably couldn't avoid hearing this album, or at least a song from it, if you tried. But unlike the hordes of overexposed wannabe musicians that make a mockery of the art, Kings of Leon are carrying the torch for genuine rock music and doing things the right way in a wrong-way industry. --Bryan Rodgers