Album Review: Kings Of Leon, “Only By The Night” (2008)

I try not to hold grudges.  The past is the past, forgive and forget, all that jazz.  Though I must say I’m still a teeny bit mad- okay, absolutely livid- about the fact that Kings of Leon cancelled their show that I was going to see in Sacramento.  I was all excited- my best friend I and bought our tickets months in advance.  We were ready to drive two hours, spend the night at her parent’s house, and enjoy a weekend full of Kings of Leon, when a month before the show I got an e-mail from Ticketmaster saying that the concert was cancelled.  Not just rescheduled.  Cancelled.  For no apparent reason.  No other dates were cancelled.  Just mine.   I swear, I must have bad karma for something I’ve done.

I’ve had this happen before, but I was never as heartbroken as I was when I heard about the Kings of Leon show being cancelled.  Why?  Because I love them.  In the last year, their fourth studio album, Only By The Night has basically become the soundtrack of my life.  I got it by chance, after hearing some buzz about them online and instantly fell in love.

The band hails from Nashville, Tennessee, and consists of three brothers- Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill, and their cousin Matthew Followill.  The sound is one that you’d have a hard time ignoring- a bit of blue-eyed soul mixed with sultry southern rock.  Lead singer, Caleb Followill’s gravelly, soul-filled  voice is rock music perfection and all in all, Kings of Leon is just a stellar band.  No wonder I wanted to see them live.  Instead, I’ll just have to settle for repeated listens of Only By The Night.  Not that I have a problem with that, anyway.

The disc begins with Closer, a slow-burning, percussion heavy number.  From the opening lyrics (“Stranded in this spooky town/Stoplights are swaying and the phone lines are down/Snow is crackling cold/She took my heart, I think she took my soul/With the moon I run/Far from the carnage of the fiery sun”) you’re transported to another place, as Caleb passionately croons, “And it’s coming closer.”  I’ve never quite figured out what “it” is that’s coming closer (perhaps the same thing that Phil Collins can feel coming in the air tonight?), but with Caleb’s stirring vocals, visual lyrics and thrashing guitars, you get caught up in the moment nonetheless.

Next up is Crawl, a faster paced song filled with loud electric guitars and feedback.  The song has a harder sound than the one that precedes it, and is a fun listen.  Again, the boys of Kings of Leon have a knack for writing great lyrics, and the catchy refrain (“You better learn to crawl/Before I walk away”) will be stuck in your head for a long time after the song’s done.

At this moment in time, Kings of Leon are probably best known for their hit single, Sex On Fire.  The song blew up in Fall of ’08 (especially in the college scene- it seems like every time I went to the bar across from the University, this song was playing!), and basically pulled the band from indie-level obscurity and to a different height of fame.  Despite being played out and well, a bit overrated, I’m still a fan of the song.  The mid-tempo number is equal parts radio-friendly and sexy, and again, Caleb’s vocals as he cries out, “And you/Your sex is on fire!” is what really make the song.   The guitars in this song are also amazing; whenever I listen to this track I want so very much to give up learning acoustic guitar and go straight for electric.

Use Somebody is the band’s current radio hit, and it’s another obvious radio-friendly track.  From the opening chords to Caleb’s signature raspy vocals, the song has hit written all over it.  The song is written from the perspective of someone feeling lonely out on the road, and the lyrics make that apparent (“I’ve been roaming around/I was looking down at all I see /Painted faces, fill the places I can’t reach/You know that I could use somebody/Someone like you”).   Again, it’s the lyrics paired with the sound that make the song, and the Kings of Leon have developed a perfect formula of great music.  I hear this song on the radio fairly often, and I still get a little thrill of excitement from hearing it on mainstream outlets. I was a fan of them before Sex On Fire really got big, and was used to only hearing them on my iPod and my friends giving me weird looks when I described how I wanted to marry Caleb Followill’s voice.  Well, they still give me weird looks when I say that, but at least now they know who Caleb Followill is.

Manhattan and Revelry keep up the excellence of the album.  The first of the two is another mid-tempo delight, which focuses mostly on Caleb’s raw vocals, and Cameron’s beautiful guitar solo towards the middle of the song.  Revelry is just a pure, classic rock song; I fell in love right from the opening lyrics (“What a night for a dance, you know I’m a dancing machine/With the fire in my bones/And the sweet taste of kerosene”) and the rest of the song beautifully describes lamenting the loss of a relationship (“So I drink and I smoke and I ask if you’re ever around/Even though it was me who drove us right into the ground/See the time we shared it was precious to me/But all the while I was dreaming of revelry/…Just know it was you all along that had a hold of my heart/But the demon in me was a best friend from the start”)

Next up is 17, an upbeat little number, which begins similar to Jingle Bells, for some odd reason.  Anyway, the song is another catchy one, and the way Caleb sings the opening verse, “Oh she’s only seventeen” makes me want to be 17 again.  On another note, this song just made me think back to a really good memory from earlier this year; I was in Seattle in February visiting my boyfriend at the time, and we were driving along the coast with the windows rolled down, blasting this album.  So now, when I listen to this song, I can still see the beach and smell the saltwater in the air…makes me smile. Notionis perhaps the only song on the album that I don’t absolutely love, but that’s only because it just doesn’t stand out as much as the other tracks.  It’s a slower-paced rock song, filled with guitar and drums, but the lyrics don’t really say much and for once, neither does Caleb’s voice.  It’s still a nice song, and I’ve never even skipped it while listening to the album, but it’s definitely not one of my favorites.Kingsofleon2

I Want You and Be Somebody, are, however.  I Want You is one of those songs you just expect to hear playing in the background of a debaucherous night- I have no way to describe it other than that.  Perhaps it’s the slow and sexy sound, or Caleb’s sensual delivery, or perhaps the provocative lyrics (“Put your eyes on me, and I know a place where we can get away …/A choke and a gag, she spit up and came back for more /And said I want you, just  exactly like I used to /And baby this is only bringing me down”); either way, the song is one of the stand-outs on the album.  Be Somebody has some of the best guitar in the beginning of the song, leading way to another catchy melody.  The song’s bouncy beat and fun verses (“Locking down the door with the rhythm and rhyme/I loosen my tie, I loosen my tie/Trying to recall what you want me to say/I shake your way, I shake your way “) make the song one you’d have a hard time not singing along to, especially during the anthem-like chorus (“Given a chance, I’m gonna be somebody /If for one dance, I’m gonna be somebody/Open the door, it’s gonna make you love me /Facing the floor, I’m gonna be somebody”).  I could definitely see this song being another hit if released to radio outlets.

The album sadly comes to a close with the final song, Cold Desert.  The band has said the song was written one night in the studio after Caleb had a few too many drinks and stumbled over to the microphone to unexpectedly sing the line, “Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load.” From that line on, the brothers encouraged him to keep improvising lyrics and joined in on guitar and drums and basically created the entire song by the seat of their pants.  The result is a hauntingly beautiful ballad, and my favorite song on the entire album.  The lyrics describe an immense, deep loneliness that one could only appreciate, sadly enough, if they’ve ever been there themselves (“I’ve never ever cried when I was feeling down/I’ve always been scared of the sound/Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load/I’m too young to feel this old”), and Caleb delivers the message appropriately so, wailing along in such a powerful and emotion-filled voice that the first time I heard the song I started to cry.  Even the guitars seem to be wailing during the middle of the song, and the music fades out for a few moments, leaving you alone in the vast, cold desert, until Caleb slowly begins singing the final lines, ending with a passionate cry as he sings out, “Nobody but me.”  Anyone who has ever felt down, or depressed, or lonely could relate to this song, though I’m not sure if it’s the song you want to turn to if you’re trying to get out of a funk- it’s definitely a “misery loves company/drown my sorrows in music and my fifth beer” type of tune.

So here we are, at the end of Kings of Leon’s exquisite fourth studio album, Only By The Night.  I know some of the hardcore KoL fans have problems with the album, mostly because it was one that catapulted the band to fame and because of all the radio-friendly hits, but I assure them and you that this album is absolutely fantastic.  It’s rare that you find a disc that you can listen to start to finish, no matter what kind of mood you’re in, but this is that rare exception.

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing
1. Closer
2. Crawl
3. Sex on Fire
4. Use Somebody
5. Manhattan
6. Revelry
7. 17
8. Notion
9. I Want You
10. Be Somebody
11. Cold Desert


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