It would be easy to hate the [artist id=”1233888″]Kings of Leon[/artist] for making Come Around Sundown mostly because it’s the follow-up to their Grammy-winning breakthrough Only by the Night. But really, that wouldn’t be particularly fair. After all, the Kings spent their first nine years as America’s most under-appreciated band (drummer Nathan Followill once lamented to me that all reporters in the States ever asked them about was their mustaches) only to stumble into fame thanks to songs like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.” They have, in almost every conceivable way, earned everything they have today, so you really can’t blame them for wanting to take a victory lap.
And Sundown (due Tuesday) is most definitely a victory lap. The majority of it sounds like Only by the Night (“Use Somebody” in particular) thanks in no small part to the production team of Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King, who helmed their smash and therefore earned the right to reteam with the band here. It covers the same themes (girls, the road, getting drunk) and does so in the exact same sonic palette; in fact, Sundown is the kind of album that proudly refuses to tread new ground — unlike, say, the Kings’ best albums, 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak and ’07’s Because of the Times, both of which crackled with livewire energy and neither of which did a damn thing here in the U.S.
Which is to say, it is both a much-deserved victory lap and the perfect follow-up to Only by the Night. How you feel about it depends largely on how you felt about that album or, more correctly, the two before it. Chances are, if you loved Night, if you saw the Kings on their sold-out arena tours, well, then you will really love Come Around Sundown. If you preferred the really drunk, rambling, rousing Kings of Because of the Times, well, then you’ll probably find Sundown to be a snooze. But you probably didn’t like Night anyway, so really, this album isn’t for you to begin with.
Confused? Don’t be. Come Around Sundown is the Kings playing it safe, laying up close to the hole and settling for par. It is an oddly nocturnal, sleepy thing, a trait that most of their new fans will no doubt confuse for sensuality, but one that only makes me long for stuff like “Charmer” or “The Bucket” (someone much smarter than me — my wife — summed the album up rather perfectly when she said a lot of it reminded her of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”). The majority of that listlessness can be attributed to Petraglia and King’s production work, which is strangely flat and lethargic, though KOL don’t help matters much with songs like the sun-stroked “Beach Side” or the torpid “Mi Amigo.” It seems rather strange — to me, at least — that a band that once sang about the evils of booze-addled erectile dysfunction (that would be “Soft”) would make an album this flaccid.
Then again, there are moments where KOL rise to the occasion. The widescreen expanses (and roaring guitar solo) of “Mary” boldly go where the band has never gone before; the rolling bass lines on “No Money” and “Pony Up” recall their hornball heyday; and, with its fiddles and gospel flourishes, “Back Down South” is an unabashed grab at, well, something. But too often, Come Around Sundown aims for the middle — and it succeeds in spades, for better or (more often than not) worse.
Perhaps I am not being fair here. After all, I am probably not who this album was made for. I prefer the Kings circa 2007, not 2010, and by no means is Sundown a terrible record; it’s just not a very interesting one. Rather, it’s a straightforward, three-star affair, the kind of thing that big bands make and then, subsequently, get even bigger (as opposed to, say, Linkin Park’s adventurous A Thousand Suns, which has had the exact opposite effect). They will almost certainly gain fans this time around, and you cannot hold it against them for this. They’ve put in the work; now it’s time to reap the rewards. Take a bow, fellas. You’ve earned it.
What do you think of the Kings’ new music? Share your thoughts in the comments!