Not long ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Kings of Leon’s, Because of the Times. At the time I gave it a 7/10, however, if you sit alongside their new record, When You See Yourself, it’s easily an 8 or 9/10.
Kings of Leon are a band I’ll never not take notice of. If they release a new record I’ll always give it a listen, mainly because I had such a good time with their early work, specifically Youth and Young Manhood and Because of the Times. Sadly, they seem reluctant to return to the sounds we heard in those works.
On first listen, Now You See Yourself sort of just wraps around you like a beige indie blanket. Or the magnolia walls of your favourite Shoreditch coffee shop. It’s by no means unpleasant, but if I weren’t reviewing it would I have given it the time to find those odd tracks and moments that actually are interesting? Maybe not, but thankfully I did. Caleb Followill’s voice is always a pleasure to listen to and still has the Tennessee swag heard in the band’s early days. The production across the album is clean and tight, almost to a fault. At points, such as in “A Wave” is verges into Only the Night territory, my personal least favourite ‘era’ of Kings of Leon.
However, things get interesting for me in tracks like “Golden Restless Age”. With a fairly innocuous introduction lulling you in, the verse slaps back with a perfectly simplistic Interpol-esque riff. This quick change of scenery is welcomed where other tracks seemingly remain level throughout. The other standout is “100,000 People”, a track more reminiscent of Kings of Leon’s youth. Rhythmically it is more challenging that many of the other tracks and brings a welcomed mellow heat to an otherwise fairly bland affair.
There are some nicely written melodies and well produced tracks throughout, and I think this album certainly has an audience, somewhere… I’m just not sure it’s me. When You See Yourself is by no means a bad album, but maybe I’m forever disappointed because I’m forever chasing a sound that just isn’t Kings of Leon anymore.
6 out of 10
Albums like this beg the age-old question: would anybody care if this wasn’t released by [INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS BAND HERE]? With When You See Yourself I doubt it, but it’s Kings of Leon so here we all are. What would otherwise be dismissed as pedestrian and aimless appears on magazine covers as ‘evolution’, the sounds of a band ‘exploring’ new ground. All I hear is a band trying — and mostly failing — to justify the decision to keep making music together.
That’s not to say the album’s bad. It’s not. Nor is it particularly good. It just is. It’s an album that is. The exceptions for me are “100,000 People” and “Claire & Eddie”. The former is a steady, mellow mountain bear of a song, while the latter has the dusty, tired clarity of a fireside lullaby. They sound like evolution, a band exploring new ground. Alas, then, that two or three promising songs in a 50-minute spell doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Most of what remains slumps unto the realm of dozy stadium rock — pleasant and forgettable in equal measure.
On a surface level this reminded me of the last Arctic Monkeys album. (Rock superstars slow things down, dabble in ‘70s kitsch, etc.) However, while Alex Turner and Co. really did unearth new, unexpected, at times deeply compelling sides of themselves, all Kings of Leon manage to do on When You See Yourself is sound like they’re all out of ideas.
6 out of 10
When You See Yourself sits in a no man’s land of ineffectual indie rock. While there’s nothing egregious here, there’s nothing exceptional either. In fact, far from egregious, there’s some well-performed, well-produced music in this tracklist, but it’s all for nought if it doesn’t grab its listener.
The contrast between this and our retrospective review of Because of the Times only highlights the character I’d previously missed in the latter - a swagger and a twang reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand or The Strokes that’s missing from this latest release. Calmer, softer-edged, almost cosy at times, the album brings warm intentions and a recognisable Kings of Leon sound, but it all culminates in an album that doesn’t stick the landing.
You’ll find the most archetypal Kings of Leon music in the likes of “The Bandit”, a punchy track with an Interpol-esque chorus, and “Golden Restless Age”, with its driving start, splashy drums, and insistent bassline. Elsewhere, things are more sedate, for better or worse. “Claire & Eddie” is where the band feels most comfortable. Caleb Followill’s vocal is soothing, guitars and bass have a satisfying tone, and the solo midway through sits well. “Fairytale” does a similar job, a warm, comforting chord progression lining the entire track and a nostalgic, distant synth rounding out both track and album.
Unfortunately, the rest of the tracklist has little staying power. “100,000 People” and “Stormy Weather” are the only other tracks of note, both featuring potentially interesting elements but lacking any bite. The slightly over-polished production may be the cause of these soft-edges, and it’s certainly the cause of Caleb’s vocal often disappearing into the scrum of the track. Still, there’s a sense of lethargy in many of these tracks where a sense of tranquillity might have been intended.
That said, I’m not angling to make Kings of Leon sound washed up or past it. Their 2016 release, WALLS, was more enjoyable and more exploratory than this latest release and wasn’t a carbon copy of their 2000s material. I’m all for a band’s progression after two decades of making music, but this neither advances Kings of Leon’s sound nor recaptures the glory of their past. It’s stuck in the space inbetween.
6 out of 10