Kings of Leon have been slobbered on since the moment they put their first batch of press releases in the mail. Most bands twice their age have been dreaming about the kind of attention they get for, well, as long as the Kings have been alive. But we’ve all heard stories of pre-full-length-hype destroying a band’s initiation to the entertainment industry (Starsailor, Andrew W.K.). In Kings of Leon’s case the backlash of major label bidding wars and the press’s blitzkrieg activity afterward remains to be seen.
The story the media is fawning over in Kings of Leon’s case is the one about the Followill family tree, a tree that devoted most of an entire branch to the Kings. Aside from cousin Matthew Followill, the band is three brothers, Caleb, Nathan and Jared who grew up traveling across the South as part of their father’s evangelical entourage. In addition to this Bible-belt, family-tree schtick, they average 19 years in age, they’re good looking, and they fit their music neatly between the history of the Rolling Stones and the presence of The White Stripes.
Now, on the heels of Holy Roller Novocaine, a tight debut EP produced by the currently chic Ethan Johns, Kings of Leon are emerging from the studio with Johns at the wheel again for Youth and Young Manhood.
For anyone who heard and enjoyed Holy Roller Novocaine there won’t be many surprises here to keep the anticipation from turning into slight disappointment. But then, that may as well be a good thing with Kings of Leon’s no-gimmick, straight-as-an-arrow rock ’n’ roll sound.
The band’s brand as the Southern Strokes is surprisingly accurate citing the cutesy lead guitar riffs, simple punchy drums and dirty vocals that beg for a punch-drunk sing-along. Even though they fit nicely into their little Southern garage category they seem less focused on that retro-cool identity all the “the” bands seem to strive for. They opt instead for some Bob Dylan moments packaged in ’70s rock.
Four songs from the Novocaine EP were re-recorded for Manhood, “Wasted Time,” “California Waiting,” “Molly’s Chambers” and the EP’s title track. Except for the arrangement of the songs, they went through substantial production changes. Lead-singing, guitar-playing brother Caleb’s jaw has gotten quite a bit looser and these songs relay that quite well.
The album opener and first single, “Red Morning Light,” is catchy, as a first single should be, but it lacks what makes a song last. The Followills seem pretty caught up with being young and writing music provocative of the cliché youth attitude. So Kings of Leon seems to have accomplished what it set out to achieve with Youth and Young Manhood, an album full of light-hearted situations from the lives of young men.