Album review: Kings of Leon return to their roots in Walls

Generally the tone here is effortlessly breezy, a top-down road trip away from life’s troubles. It does take a brief left-field turn as they move further west with Muchacho, a quirky Hispanic jam.

From left, Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill and Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon. Mark Humphrey / AP Photo
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Walls

Kings of Leon

(Columbia)

Four stars

Long-running rock bands often run the risk of upsetting someone. For every fan that craves musical risk-taking, another furiously demands a return to the classic, original sound. On Walls, Kings of Leon try to do both, taking a bold leap forward while also returning to their roots. In doing so, they may just have become the new Eagles.

The Nashville-formed quintet hit a curious slump after the hit-laden 2010 album Come Around Sundown catapulted them onto the top of the playlists. Their follow-up, Mechanical Bull (2013), was the sound of a group suddenly bereft of that invigorating guys-in-a-van spirit. Now they were travelling in separate vehicles, and suffering the occasional onstage meltdown.

Families will feud, but thankfully the three Followill brothers – Caleb, Nathan and Jared – and cousin Matthew found a way to stay intact. Instead, the fall guy here is their long-time producer, Angelo Petraglia. He makes way for Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay), who, according to KOL’s frontman Caleb, shook up the band’s process, “taking a song we were playing slow, and saying: ‘OK, now how would the Sex Pistols play it?’ ”

There are still slow songs here, such as the moody title track, but it boasts a pop-radio sharpness, plus some subtle electronics swooshing quietly behind, as if the band were sharing their studio with M83 or Boards of Canada.

The album’s Kraftwerk-style cover art is misleading though, as the Followills also took an active step backwards with this recording, returning to the birthplace of their first two albums – Los Angeles. Their seventh frequently reminds you of that easy 1970s California vibe – Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, and, yes, the Eagles.

Caleb could never sound as warm as the late, great Glenn Frey, but Walls suggests a band reconnecting with their early, hairy heyday. The riff-heavy Find Me – about a haunted hotel – is their Hotel California, with hints of Don Henley's Boys of Summer. Meanwhile, the opener, Waste a Moment, is built for the freeway.

Generally the tone here is effortlessly breezy, a top-down road trip away from life's troubles. It does take a brief left-field turn as they move further west with Muchacho, a quirky Hispanic jam. But more enduringly satisfying is the pastoral Conversation Piece, musically reminiscent of Radiohead's No Surprises, but via Laurel Canyon. "Take me back to California," sings Caleb, "those crystal neon signs".

Walls has no massive surprises either, really, but those signs are all good. The Followills are following a positive path.

artslife@thenational.ae