Recording information: IHOF Studio; The Neon Leon, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Dan Winters.
Kings of Leon hit it big in 2008 with their album Only by the Night and the accompanying one-two punch of singles "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody." The success of those singles propelled them into the upper echelon of arena rock bands and found them at a crossroads between the post-punk-influenced sound of their previous albums and the anthemic, U2-influenced approach that they'd begun to explore on Only by the Night. Perhaps not surprisingly, the band's follow-up, 2010's Come Around Sundown, while by no means a disappointment, seemed strained, as if the band was trying too hard to balance its early sound with its later hits, all while digging even deeper into its Southern roots. Which is partly why the band's sixth studio album, 2013's Mechanical Bull, comes as sweet relief. While still retaining Kings of Leon's penchant toward bombastic, hooky choruses and driving guitars, Mechanical Bull feels breezier and less labored than Come Around Sundown. Even the title feels like a cheeky double entendre that references both the band's Southern upbringing (lead singer Caleb Followill and his bandmate siblings were raised in Oklahoma and Tennessee) and the gear-like machinations of the rock industry. Front-loading an album with the leadoff single can often be a sign of weakness in a release, but not in this case. Kicking off with the passionate "Supersoaker" merely sets the tone for this album. In fact, two of the best cuts come midway through, with the yearning "Wait for Me" and the bluesy, Primal Scream-esque "Family Tree." Elsewhere, "Rock City" brings a heavy Mott the Hoople vibe to the fore and the raging "Coming Back Again" finds the band delving into War-era U2. Having grabbed their career by the horns with Mechanical Bull, it's clear that Kings of Leon aren't letting it get away from them anytime soon. ~ Matt Collar
Rolling Stone (p.82) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The Kings fold lowdown, raucous moments into what's become their trademark sonic and emotional expansiveness."
Entertainment Weekly - "[They] are now playing to size again: a big, arena-worthy band with the licks to match." -- Grade: B+
Mojo (Publisher) (p.94) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[The] bass riff on 'Family Tree' and Marc Bolanesque guitar leads on 'Rock City' are a delight."