Friday, July 17, 2009

Album Review: Only by the Night

Requester: DI

As a part of this blog, I’m hoping to expand my musical horizons by attempting to review songs and albums from artists I do not already know. I’m very excited by this prospect, but it is a bit challenging. When you review what you know, there’s so much more you can say. You can draw on your knowledge from previous works, the artist’s history, and make savvy pop culture comments. It’ll be harder for me to do that with new artists. I cannot compare what I am listening to with earlier works, which will be my biggest challenge. Knowing how an artist has grown or changed on a new disc gives invaluable insight to the artist’s goals with an album. I do not have this, yet I will press on. Please lend me your patience when I review new works. The benefit, however, is that I will have to focus solely on the music. I feel that’s the purest way to review an album. I just hope these reviews are interesting to read.

The Kings of Leon, apparently, have been on the scene for quite some time. However, before the release of Only by the Night, their popularity was mostly confined to the United Kingdom and similar countries that speak English very properly. Well, now the Kings have broken into the United States and it’s not hard to see why. Their sound seems to be pure rock, but with a pop accessibility. In other words, their songs have hooks and melodies that are easy to get into, but contain enough edge and originality that nobody will ever accuse the Kings of being pop/rock douchebags in the vein of Daughtry and Nickelback. They write good songs. They create good arrangements. The have a strong rock sound. I enjoy listening to their music.

The two most recognizable songs, Sex on Fire and Use Somebody, are very good tracks. After I started listening to the album, I found myself humming those tunes more often than any of the others. However, I think their best track is the album’s opener, Closer. I applaud this track because it explores a slightly different sound than the rest of the album. Although the rock influence is apparent, the opening sound effect creates a very interesting infusion of electronica into the song. It’s a weird and moody concoction, but it’s very effective. The rock elements build as the song moves along and help transition into the more traditional sound of the rest of the disc.

I also enjoyed the more tender moments on the album. Revelry is a more gentle song, with some very nice imagery in the lyrics as Caleb Followill, the group's very effective lead singer, laments the loss of love. Cold Desert is another one of my favorites. It's very mellow song with more metaphorical lyrics and is quite lovely.

My largest criticism is that, although the Kings are much more original than typical pop/rock artists, they’re not quite original enough to rule the world of pure rock. As pop rockers, they could be terribly creative and new. However, I do not feel that they want to belong in that realm. As I listened through, I could hear the influence of Coldplay and Radiohead on a number of tracks. Even the song 17 made me think of Rilo Kiley, albeit only for the thematic reference. Clearly the Kings stand on the shoulders of many great predecessors, but they still have a little bit more to accomplish to carve out a unique identity. I think they should reexamine Closer and follow that path. Perhaps that’s the road to pure rock greatness.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Savage Songs: Closer, Use Somebody, Sex on Fire, Revelry

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