After taking a three-year long hiatus, Kings of Leon return to the studio with Mechanical Bull, a remarkably fresh and youthful sounding rock album. The spry, energetic sound is in contrast to some of the band’s far more grown-up issues.
Drawing on sounds and vibes from their earlier work, the sixth studio album from the Tennessee natives is raw and energetic, yet musically complex. In true KOL fashion, the lyrics are poetic and at times deceptively simple. Listened to as a whole, the album plays fluidly, striking a perfect balance between the numbers of upbeat tracks and ballads. And even though the Followill boys had some unsteady moments during their last tour, these kings are back and ready to continue their reign.
The three brothers and cousin return to their roots on this album, mixing the sounds of their first two albums, Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, with hints of the beachy chimes from Come Around Sundown, their fifth album. The album encompasses the same mesh of blues, soul and Southern rock that made the band famous.
With a mix of catchy and heartfelt tracks, the album offers up something for every type of fan. The tracks “Supersoaker,” “Temple” and “Family Tree” are upbeat and catchy with potential to become radio singles. The retro music video accompanying “Supersoaker” might have led fans to believe the Kings were swaying towards an experimental album, but the Kings keep it old school on Mechanical Bull, evoking sounds from their first two albums.
In fact, the guitar riffs on “Don’t Matter” and the simple chorus make the track sound like it’s right off Holy Roller Novocain, the band’s first album. Likewise, “Coming Back Again” evokes the same grungy rock that feels like a throwback to the days of the band’s inception, both lyrically and musically.
Intimate slow jams such as “Beautiful War” and “Wait For Me” shed light on the more tender concerns of these Southern rockers while highlighting lead singer Caleb Followill’s husky-yet-velvety voice. “Wait for Me” has radio appeal and will probably drop as the second single. “On the Chin,” a contemplative track, possibly about Caleb’s struggle in leading the band gets fans closer to the inner workings of a world famous rock band questioning their place in the musical landscape.
The slight disappointments on the album are the lackluster deluxe tracks on the special iTunes edition. Though “Work on Me” is up-tempo and echoes the sounds of Come Around Sundown, neither the lyrics nor rhythm play as particularly memorable. Likewise, “Last Mile Home,” the second deluxe track, doesn’t inspire and rides over the listener passively.
Bassist Jared Followill called the album a “culmination” of their previous work, but these Southerners take it a step further than just a compilation of their old sounds. They expand on what they do best — adding in layers of instrumental complexity. For example at the end of track eight, “Comeback Story,” violin strings sweep in as Caleb swoons, “I walk a mile in your shoes / And now I’m a mile away / and I’ve got your shoes.” Paired with a grooving bass line, the resulting sound is richly layered with instrumentation, resulting in a more nuanced and mature sound than the band’s earlier work.
After a world tour bogged down with rumors that the brothers were embroiled in a feud, the Kings decided to take a hiatus. While Come Around Sundown finally got them on North America’s radar and was a great album with a slight beachy, California vibe, it lacked a counterbalance from more heartfelt, downtempo tracks.
Though Jared was right to label the album a culmination, Mechanical Bull doesn’t sound like a greatest hits album. The album cover, which depicts the album title as a dirty neon sign outside a run-down bar, captures the overall feel of the album. The songs sound like the score to a grungy night in a small town bar that houses a mechanical bull. Yet instead of simulating an intoxicated ride on the bull, this album keeps you at the bar, sipping and observing the ongoing youthful ruckus.
Follow Natalie on Twitter @NQasabian