Essential New Music: Kings Of Leon’s “Walls”

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It says something about Kings Of Leon that they chose a ballad as the title track and first video for their seventh album. The group may have recruited Coldplay and Arcade Fire producer Markus Dravs to shake things up on Walls, but the Kings remain an anomaly on the stadium circuit. Raised in Tennessee, where its members still reside, the extended Followill clan (three brothers and a cousin) connects much better on an intimate level—be it with a hug or a headlock. Thankfully, Walls rarely sounds like Coldplay (though, if you want to hear a poor man’s version of U2, try KOL’s 2010 misstep, Come Around Sundown). With Mechanical Bull, Walls’ excellent 2013 predecessor, the band finally got down to the business of reconciling its bigness with the modest Southern roots so apparent on 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, which cast KOL as a promising cross between the Strokes and the Allman Brothers.

Caleb Followill has come a long way since then as a singer and a songwriter, and the plainspoken power and restraint of both his lyrics and vocals on “Walls” proves it. The album as a whole continues where Mechanical Bull left off. Tracks like “Waste A Moment,” “Reverend” (likely an offhand reference to the Followills’ wayward pastor father) and “Eyes On You” manage to refine and improve on familiar KOL formulas. “Find Me” is a wholly different beast—a stylish, redneck-boogiefied slab of deconstructed new wave. Indeed, Walls finds its truest inspiration at the intersection of Britpop and Southern rock. Young as they are, Kings Of Leon can never go back, but they can move forward with an appreciation of where their strengths really lie. Walls could be their portal to lingering greatness.

—Hobart Rowland