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Review: KOL are SOL

Street contributor Will Green reviews the Kings of Leon's new album.

Earlier this year, Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill told NME that their new album would "rock harder" and function as a return to their southern roots. Ignoring the fact that the band has made their sizeable imprint on the indie rock scene as a southern rock outfit all along, their latest release blatantly abandons their traditional wailing rock sound in pursuit of either (if the glass is half full) a new direction or (if it's not) a waste of everyone's time.

Kings of Leon always embraced straightforward song structures and eked every grain of awesomeness out of them through dirty, blistering guitar solos and lead singer Caleb Followill's fantastically raspy voice. While his voice is still the band's truest trademark, Only by the Night may have made it their only distinctive quality. Disc opener "Closer" evokes their previous album's opener "Knocked Up" by looping the same drooping guitar pattern over and over. It is the album's most effective song and evocative of the KOL we know and love. Tracks two and three, the early viral singles "Crawl" and "Sex On Fire" borrow heavily from Beck and The Strokes respectively and set the album in an optimistic groove.

And then, out of nowhere, we're greeted with radio-rock choruses and a set of 'whoa-oh-ohs' that bad-boy-son-of-a-preacher Followill wouldn't have sung in his happiest days as a grunge rock visionary. There's a  fine line between exploration and stepping out of your element, and "Use Somebody" is only the most blatant example of when KOL leave said element far in the dust. "Notion" sounds like something Tokyo Police Club would leave on the cutting room floor, and "17," while going to some good places, confuses with unnecessary church bells and awkward background harmonies.

As far as the band is concerned, experimentation is at the forefront — church bells, piano and cowbell were never the band's trademarks. But the experimentation creeps in at the expense, not the accentuation, of the disc's sound, abandoning grit for prettier soundscapes that turn the album into what sounds like a b-sides and covers collection. On their next album, Kings of Leon should take a little more time to step back and evaluate where they want to take their sound, not what they want to masquerade it as.