In 1965, Bob Dylan polarised audiences after transitioning from traditional folk music to incorporating the use of the electric guitar. Some fans went so far as to label him “a traitor”, and Dylan has maintained his disgust towards such opinions to this day.
In more recent times, American rock band Kings of Leon have endured a similar betrayal by many fans since abandoning their raw, indie garage origins for more polished, conventional and radio-friendly anthems.
Having just released their latest studio album WALLS last week, this list attempts to rank all seven full-length releases in order of overall greatness; an endeavour bound to stir some controversy between fans and critics alike.
7. Come Around Sundown, 2010
The Kings’ were clearly at a crossroads at the release of their fifth album, Come Around Sundown, and it was no secret that this could be the end (a lyric repeated persistently in the album’s opening track). The band would later cancel the remainder of their world tour the next year, lead singer Caleb Followill citing “vocal issues and exhaustion”, and the latter is reflected in the laid-back album which does at times begins to sound a little tired itself.
That said, the mellowed record is not without some highlights of its own, and singles ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Pyro’ provide the sun-drenched atmosphere that the album cover’s imagery suggests and lingers delightfully throughout, until the heartening closer ‘Pickup Truck’.
Lead Single: ‘Radioactive’
Underrated Gem: ‘Pickup Truck’
6. Mechanical Bull, 2013
After a short hiatus and three years since the release of their previous album, the Followill Four returned boldly to the scene of their crimes with the unashamedly marketable arena anthem ‘Supersoaker’.
However, the single that followed titled ‘Wait for Me’, which could easily slip undetected into the tracklist of Come Around Sundown, risks revealing the patchwork collection of songs that is Mechanical Bull. Yet, the album’s indisputable highlight comes with the propulsive ‘Temple’, which singlehandedly reinvigorated the Kings and breathes a new life back into the album.
After the funky-blues of ‘Family Tree’, the album does tend to taper away into some less memorable tracks, and after the relaxed nature of the previous album perhaps should have pulled a few less punches, but nonetheless, it was a step back in the right direction for a band who nearly threw it all away.
Lead Single: ‘Supersoaker’
Underrated Gem: ‘Rock City’
5. Youth & Young Manhood, 2003
Released to generally favourable reviews, Kings of Leon’s often overlooked debut was hailed by many as a revival of punk and garage-rock in a musical landscape that had been dominated by pop since the beginning of the new millennium.
The album, which was primarily recorded at Sound City Studios, is wild and uncultivated, much like the band’s hair styles of the time, and the frenzied scramble of frantic rhythms soon earned them the affectionate nickname “The Southern Strokes”.
Incorporating tracks taken from across two previously released EPs from earlier that year, Youth & Young Manhood’s downfall is its noticeable lack of diversity, which would have been even more evident if it wasn’t for a deliberate attempt to break up the album with the ballads ‘Trani’, written by lead guitarist Matthew Followill, and the penultimate track ‘Dusty’.
Lead Single: ‘Molly’s Chambers’
Underrated Gem: ‘Red Morning Light’
4. WALLS (We Are Like Love Songs), 2016
When the walls came down on KOL’s seventh studio album last week, four of its ten tracks had already been made available as pre-order/singles. Following the formula of their previous album Mechanical Bull, WALLS also opens with a ‘Supersoaker’-esque anthem in ‘Waste a Moment’; the album’s first track that also serves as its radio-made lead single.
Although it’s certainly not Kings of Leon’s greatest album to date, it’s by far their most cohesive in years, and evidently reflects the band are finally confident and at peace with their new musical direction, even if some of their listeners are not.
It’s far from being lyrically or musically complex, but then, they never really have been. WALLS is easy listening and impossible not to enjoy in some capacity, but if you’ve hated everything that’s come since Only By the Night arrived back in 2008, this one is still unlikely to win you back over.
Lead Single: ‘Waste a Moment’
Underrated Gem: ‘Over’
3. Because of the Times, 2007
The beginning of the end, according to some listeners.
Hints of the band’s shift into the dreaded un-exhumable trench of pop-rock were undeniably evident in Because of the Times even before Only By the Night hit just one year later. Songs such as the lead single ‘On Call’ and ‘Black Thumbnail’ still sound vaguely familiar to the Kings of Leon of old, but by now the band have evolved from their scruffy unbridled origins, shedding their untamed locks and simultaneously developing a more styled and shiny image and sound.
The cinematic opener ‘Knocked Up’ sets the stage for an album enveloped by a single narrative that’s obviously influenced by the likes of U2, Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan himself, all of whom the band had recently supported on tour. Though ‘Charmer’ seems to take more cues from Nirvana, with its explosive shifts in dynamic.
While overall, Because of the Times may be considered one of the band’s strongest records, it perhaps lacks a memorable track of its own; something of the calibre of ‘Molly’s Chambers’, ‘The Bucket’ or, heaven forbid ‘Sex on Fire’, to cement it as a certified success.
Lead Single: ‘On Call’
Underrated Gem: ‘Ragoo’
2. Only By the Night, 2008
The Judas Kiss. Only By the Night launched Kings of Leon into global mainstream success, thanks largely to its infamous single ‘Sex on Fire’, which was followed up by another huge hit in ‘Use Somebody’, eventually going on to spawn six singles in total. Scorned by fans who believed the band were selling out, the much maligned album begins as a bold, but promising change in both trend and popularity.
Lesser-known but likely excessive singles ‘Notion’, ‘Revelry’ and ‘Crawl’, are all exceptional contributions, and ‘Be Somebody’ dreams of something more for the band who were about to have it all.
Where Because of the Times seemed confused with its new direction, Only By the Night is crafted with assured confidence and maintains its promise of delivering a different take on the much loved four piece from Tennessee. It’s that once unshakable self-assuredness they would lose for almost a decade, but thankfully is finally returning again.
Lead Single: ‘Sex on Fire’
Underrated Gem: ‘Closer’
1. Aha Shake Heartbreak, 2004
What Kings of Leon managed to do so well with their sophomore release was to directly follow on from their strong debut, while also correcting many of its perceived flaws.
What Youth & Young Manhood lacked in diversity, Aha Shake Heartbreak delivers in spades. Riddled with the catchy guitar hooks and infectious choruses the band would soon become known for, the record explores the natural variations in altering tempos and dynamics which had been largely absent from their debut.
Despite these disparities and amongst the added sophisticated flair, the album still managed to retain the youthful, raw tenacity its predecessor had offered, demonstrated in tracks such as ‘Taper Jean Girl’ and ‘Velvet Snow’. To this day, the album remains a firm favourite amongst rock and indie fans and typifies the vigorous, carefree essence so many crave the band to return to.
Lead Single: ‘The Bucket’
Underrated Gem: ‘Milk’