Pity the poor Kings. When I last reviewed an album by them, they were a cultish concern, just beginning to take off ("Sex On Fire") in the United Kingdom, but still sadly ignored in their home country. 


Since then, last album "Only By the Night" has gone multiplatinum, the band has conquered America by sending a song into the mainstream top ten, and has moved from small venues to huge, pigeon-infested arenas. 


All of this would have scared the #@$! out of me, if it WERE me. Once you become one of the biggest bands in the world, the expectations of others - not to mention yourself - become overwhelmingly greater. Now you're on the same level as U2, Coldplay, and even (gasp) the Rolling Stones : so what do you do?


Other groups have approached the sudden leap to success by becoming even more esoteric; witness what's happened to MGMT this year. And others, perhaps including the Kings Of Leon, begin to tread water, and churn out more of the same. 


In the case of KoL, that's pretty much what has happened. New album "Come Around Sundown" (and could it have a more smoldering, macho title?) explores no new territory, develops no new methods of operation, and generally is unthreatening and oddly unassuming. 


But unless you've tired of the KoL sound (and that's unlikely; chances are you've just heard that one song ad infinitum), then this album kicks the proverbial butt. Inasmuch as we don't have twelve retreads of "Use Somebody" here, we're looking at a band that has become comfortable and a bit complacent, but far from lazy. 


There are some absolutely marvelous tunes on this record. First single "Radioactive" is a perfect example. Featuring a deep, tight guitar sound, along with great rapid-fire cowbell and a "whoooo" background vocal that's the icing on the cake, the song choogles magnificently along. Caleb mumbles most of the vocals, sure, but he's one of the best mumblers around. 


Some other firecrackers on the album include : 


"Pyro", which has a high lonesome feel while still remaining vastly commercial. Again, the guitars move the song along, but something is becoming evident here : the Kings have learned to use their vocals and harmonies much more effectively than in the past. The band sounds tight and whip-smart. 


Somewhat reminiscent of the Tornado's "Telstar", "The Face" features wonderful bending guitar notes, reverbed just the right amount. The vocals remain strong here, with Caleb wailing through his usual murmur. 


"Back Down South" is a tribute, perhaps, to the Kings' country roots, and actually has a subtle violin and plaintive slide guitar. 


"Birthday" is blustery, full of machismo, but with a tenderness at its heart. The guitars play a choppy riff with a smooth center. 


It's not all Guns and Roses, though. Some of the repeating tricks become annoying at the second or third listen. including another song with that "whooo" thing going on, some calculatedly "wild" guitar solos, and - most unforgivably - the repeat of the "Use Somebody" structure on "Pickup Truck". 


Yes, the Kings are treading water, but there's gold in them there waves. We've got a band here at the top of its form, doing what it does best. What more can we expect? 


I give "Come Around Sundown" an 8 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
 


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