Top positive review
117 people found this helpful
on October 8, 2008
In several recent reviews, I've read Only By the Night decried as being "too commercial" or "too polished" and "straying too far from the Kings' signature sound". After a few listens, I've got to disagree with all of the above. As for the popular commercial appeal of this record, there is perhaps only one rock radio friendly single on this album and it's already peaked. "Sex on Fire" has been the Kings' most successful single to date. It has also been their most controversial, as far as their "old" fans are concerned.
"Sex of Fire" may not be the most sophisticated song, lyrically or musically, but neither were the Stones' "Satisfaction" or Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire". It's just a darn good, darn catchy straight up rock 'n' roll song. Furthermore, it's no more commercial than their last album's first single, "On Call"- arguably more of a departure from the Kings' established, musically raw style. Why folks get upset when a nominal indie band has a successful single that gets significant airplay on corporate rock radio is something that I can't quite understand. This is not arena rock, in a pejorative sense, at least. The Kings have not become the American Coldplay.
Yes, Only By the Night is slightly more polished and perhaps more melodic, in a conventional sense, than the King's earlier albums, but it still features the King's musical trademarks: alternating rambling and cyclical song structures, non-virtuoso guitar solos (not necessarily a bad thing), and a truly unique and unaffected vocal style. The album isn't more commercial, it's more accessible. Yes, they've attempted to add a few sonic layers to several of the songs, Closer first and foremost among them. For the most part, this experiment has paid off. Closer, in particular, achieves a "spooky" atmospheric quality unprecedented in the Kings' back catalogue.
I've read Crawl described as "Zepplinesque" but it sounds nothing like a Page/Plant creation. Instead, it calls to mind the Secret Machines' debut's throbbing synth/base loops. It is a propulsive song, chugging along like a runaway freight train rolling down the tracks at a leisurely 30mph- it doesn't move too fast, but you still can't stop it.
"Use Somebody" is perhaps the most poppy tune on the album. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. "Revelry" is perhaps the most melodic song on the album, if not the band's entire catalog. "Manhattan" too, is quite tuneful, if a bit more uptempo. "17" is probably the least sophisticated song on the record, lyrically at least, but it isn't unbearably so. Like most of the songs on this record, there is something strangely catchy about it. That, however, does not mean that the record is poppy. Its not.
My least favorite song on Only By The Night is "Be Somebody" which tends to ramble in a bad way. It is a Frankenstein's monster of several disparate hooks, the sum being less than its parts. However, this song is the only one of the album's 11 tracks that I'm ever tempted to skip. The last song on the album is the bleak but pretty "Cold Desert", a strong down-tempo finisher.
Adding a few keyboards and studio effects to the holy rock trinity of guitar, drums, and base is not a cardinal sin but the Kings are taking a licking from many critics and hipsterm fans for attempting to, rather modestly, broaden their sound. These attacks are unfair. I'm not comparing Only By the Night to either of these two albums but I wonder if the critics and fans complained that Sgt. Peppers or Pet Sounds were over produced or strayed too far from their respective creators' earlier works. More recently, even the rock minimalist Jack White has been experimenting with different arrangements, instruments, and overdubs on the last two White Stripes albums and, for the most part, received nothing but critical praise for it (if perhaps less commercial success than his previous releases).
Only By the Night is an attempt at musical growth. Maybe commercial success in America was a major motivator, but so what? The end result certainly justifies the means. And you've got to give these guys credit. Five strong albums in almost as many years is a rare achievement in this musical day and age. The fact that all of the Kings are under 30 years of old promises great things. Expect their next to be a musical masterpiece. In the meantime, enjoy Only By The Night for what it is- a pretty darn good album.