Y’all get on your mechanical bulls cos your favourite post-Southern rock band are back and they’re swingin’. Follow if you will the Followills through their current tonality soaked LP, packed full of slinky rhythms and cracking guitar lines, as Caleb delivers more of his distinct vocals and ambiguous lyrics. A troubled few years of drunken live shows and hiatus calls are typical of any self-effacing rock band, and these guys have fought through it admirably to deliver this album – a great return to form and one of their best since their first release Youth & Young Manhood.
Mechanical Bull almost never came to be, as they seemed to strain under the might of Only By The Night which shot them to huge success and stadium-rock levels. Follow-up Come Around Sundown didn’t hold up to expectations, but received Grammy nominations nonetheless, and lead singer/brother/cousin Caleb Followill became slightly slurred by alcoholic leanings. Threats of indefinite stoppages and taunts of new material appeared during a brief but tense period, before Mechanical Bull was announced and released on the 23rd September 2013.
The music seems brighter and somewhat more refined, possibly due to the production and writing of Angelo Petraglia who has followed them since their third album Because of the Times. The sound is sweet without being saccharine, which is a great formula for a rock band with a sentimental edge. Their music is dirty, but the lyrics incite an idea of hope and freedom; this could spell the end for a decent rock band, but it’s handled well on this album. There are no hints of songs akin to ‘Sex on Fire’, which is a bonus as they have become a bit too well-known for that song when they have plenty more to offer in their catalogue.
The first track is their current single ‘Supersoaker’, which is in fact one of the weaker pieces on the album. There are some jagged chunks of finely tuned post-rock available throughout, all the while with Caleb’s vocals on great form and swinging rhythms supplied by Ivan on drums. Tracks like ‘Rock City’ and ‘Family Tree’ have that aggressive Southern fried edge that root these guys in their upbringing, with groovy riff-age and excited vocals. Third track ‘Don’t Matter’ has a punk leaning with a gloriously fun count-in, faster tempo and non-stop guitar battery. Tracks like ‘Temple’ and ‘Last Mile Home’ have a classic Kings sound, with ringing lead guitars and strained vocals; and second to last “On the Chin” has a smooth Southern rock vibe with bluesy lead licks surrounding the harder chorus and groovy legato riffs.
Some of the standout tracks, like ‘Work On Me’ and ‘Wait For Me’, have a new wave sound with the guitars fed through chorus effects and the familiar loud-quiet-loud structure evoking the spirit of early U2 or The Cure. The obligatory ballad-esque soundscapes are not lost, as ‘Beautiful War’ tells of the wanting and needing during a pained relationship with a rhythm designed for lovin’.
Another standout track ‘Tonight’, which may be a new fan favourite, pushes the Kings of Leon to the forefront of modern musicianship. Imagining this song pouring over the late night crowd of an end of summer festival is what makes it all perfect; loud echo-drenched lead guitars, sorrowed sing-along vocals and a sense of completion make it a top choice for single release.
All the tracks here are brimming with a matured writing style and groovy Texan-tinged fun. Definitely one of the best comebacks this year – if it can be considered a comeback. A year on near hiatus isn’t really that long is it. Kings of Leon are a close family band and they never seem to lose track of the reason they make music.
Mechanical Bull does not have the pounding rock of Foo Fighters or the slightly more catchy lyricism of Coldplay, but they are definitely on a par with those guys and deserve to be called a stadium-rock band. Surely a worthy tour bunch right there? Who wouldn’t want to see those three touring? Let’s make it happen!