By: Daniel Parker
Seasoned rockers Kings of Leon triumphantly return with their seventh studio album that experiments with the traditional and the unconventional as the Kings battle to shape themselves a career path, thirteen years on from their explosive debut. WALLS, an acronym for ‘We Are Like Love Songs’, keeping with the five syllable album names that have spanned the entirety of the King’s discography, is combination of the great and the new. From the sing along, stadium ready ‘whoa oh’s’ of the opening track ‘Waste A Moment’, to the Spanish groove of slower track ‘Muchacho’, WALLS provides a sight into the battle Kings of Leon have with the mainstream versus the experimental. Previous albums Come Around Sundown and Mechanical Bull had their moments of the pre ‘Sex on Fire’ Kings of Leon era, but ultimately fell into an LP ‘no man’s land’ as it fell short with critics and fans alike. However, new producer Markus Dravs, who has also worked with Arcade Fire and Florence and the Machine, has certainly helped WALLS find its image with clean guitar riffs, catchy choruses and well-crafted song structures.
Highlights from the forty-two minute album come from the aforementioned ‘Muchacho’, a song commemorating the death of a close friend to the band. It is a slower track placed slap bang in the middle of WALLS. A slow but methodical track, it ends on a melancholic and reflective whistling solo from lead singer Caleb Followill. Unlike anything else in the King’s back catalogue, ‘Muchacho’ blends seamlessly in with the crisp and well crafted choruses of songs like ‘Wild’ and ‘Eyes On You’, songs that follow the traditional, and successful, Kings of Leon recipe.
Whilst songs like ‘Conversation Piece’ and title track ‘WALLS’ take longer to warm to than most, it is hard not to appreciate the work that has gone into the tracks. From the piano melodies to the layered guitar solos, the slick drumming and the groovy baselines, listeners can really feel each member of the band at work. It is a relatively sharp move away from 2013’s Mechanical Bull, which at times felt like the band was going through the motions. Where the album shines the most however is in the lively tracks of ‘Reverend’ and ‘Around The World’. These songs provide real throwbacks to the works that came from the albums that launched Kings of Leon way back in the early 2000s like ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘The Bucket’. Bassist Jared Followill shines especially as his groovy riffs guide these roaring songs through their raucous choruses.
All in all WALLS is a cleverly crafted blend of what Kings of Leon have been, and what they are now. The album flows seamlessly through hard-hitting ‘southern Strokes’ songs that could easily be found on 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak and the experimental, curious Kings of Leon that is gracing 2016 today. Caleb ends the album with the title track and ballad ‘WALLS’ with the wistful line “When the walls comedown!” perhaps harking back to the Come Around Sundown tour in which the band nearly collapsed in on itself. WALLS certainly acts as an LP that rebuilds the metaphorical walls around Kings of Leon, with a few new, experimental bricks to show for it.