I don't know how Kings of Leon at one time was (mis)labeled "the Strokes of the South". Maybe it was due to the short length of their first 2 albums (clocking in at about 30-35 min.). Yes, the band relied on quick guitar hooks and riffs, but there is a sea of difference with the KoL sound and the Strokes. Kings of Leon's 2005 album "Aha Shake Heartbreak" was a breakthrough album for the band in many ways (among others, bringing it mainstream success in the UK). It was one of my favorite albums of 2005. Now comes the highly anticipated new album.
"Because of the Times" (13 tracks, 51 min.) is a curious affair. It is immediately clear that the sound is darker and less accessible than on KoL's previous albums. I cannot make heads or tails of the first 2 songs, and generaly skip straight to track 3, "On Call" (first single), which starts an incredible string of no-miss tracks, all the way through track 9. "McFearless" is complex yet draws you in (it somehow reminded me of the Twilight Singers' searing sound, as it does on "On Call"). "Ragoo" mizes it up with some reggae undertones. "Fans" is a tribute to the band's fanbase in the UK (with a great line like "These raining days aren't so bad when you're the king"). I rate the tracks 3 through 9 sequence 5 stars. After that, it drops off again, with "Camaro" as the lone remaining highlight. There are just a few too many mediocre spots to rate this album more than 4 stars. I just LOVE that middle sequence of 7 songs that form the heart of the album, but the rest is not up to that same level.
Kings of Leon are much bigger outside the US than they are here. This album crashed in at No. 1 on the British charts, and KoL are HUGE there. I don't think this album will do the same for them in the US, but then again stranger things have happened. I certainly would love to see them achieve greater success here--the album entered the Billboard 200 at 25, a career-best. Live the band is a force to be reckoned with (reminding me of My Morning Jacket's steady climb to one of the best live bands out there), and I can't wait to see them when they come here to Cincinnati next month.