I am a big fan of Kings of Leon. I have enjoyed their albums and the couple of times I saw them live, so I was excited about another new release, but it’s not exactly what I wanted. They have veered slightly in a different direction, creating music that is more polished and infused with sounds from the ‘80s alternative scene. In the October 2008 Spin Caleb Followill talked about how “we’d all like to be bigger at home,” which is understandable and I don’t begrudge them, but they don’t reach their previous ragged glory that made their sound so dynamic, so dangerous, and so enjoyable to me. No song was so good that I leapt to hit the repeat button when it was finished.
When “Closer” opens, strange atmospheric sounds pulsate making think you there is some sort of labeling error until you hear Caleb’s distinctive voice wailing away. The fuzzed-out guitars on “Crawl” show the band rocking more, cutting loose as the song closes, but it’s not until the third track and the first single, “Sex On Fire,” where they sound like their old selves.
Right from the start with the buried background vocals “Use Somebody” sounds like it was meant to be a stadium anthem for everyone in the crowd to join in on, adding their own “whoa-oa-oa’s” and singing about the need we all have to be noticed by someone. “Revelry” offers a similar wail-along on the choruses. “Be Somebody” is a standout track, anchored by great drumming. Too bad it is sandwiched between two average tracks, and the album’s two longest.
Coming in under 44 minutes, Only By The Night might well be a good introduction to for new listeners to the band, but as someone who was already a fan I find the stylistic change too much, and I like all the other bands they have taken from. In the future when I think of listening to some KoL, it won't occur to me to pull this album off the shelf. That doesn’t mean I am going to yell “Judas” when I next see them, and I wouldn’t make the effort to change the radio if one of these songs came on, but I am not thrilled and excited by much here. Hopefully, they can work on these songs in a live setting and improve upon them, or at least reach the amount of people they want to with it. Only By The Night may grow on me eventually, but so far on a few listens it hasn’t grabbed hold of me like their previous releases.
There are ways to buy more KoL music associated with this release. “Frontier City” is a vinyl bonus track and available on the iTunes Deluxe Version. “The Bucket (CSS Remix)” was available during the iTunes pre-sale. Target buyers can get a second disc featuring seven songs from the a concert at The Hammersmith Apollo in 2007.