Kings of Leon are one of those unfortunate bands who peaked too early. Whenever they release something new I am usually left listening to their seminal debut Youth & Young Manhood. I did my best to forget that album before listening to this one, but it is always difficult.
WALLS has an energetic start. The opening track ‘Waste A Moment’ certainly has the fun pacing that characterised the band’s early years. Lead singer Caleb Followill begins the first verse with a melodic jig in his voice – a rare ability, and his signature move. Unfortunately, the chorus delves back into the sort of overproduced format that characterises their recent material.
‘Reverend’ is up next and is definitely the single of the album. A standard pop-rock ballad, the vocal variety noted above is eschewed. It is the sort of thing that might be good at 2.45AM in the rock room at Hive. The guitars are reminiscent of U2 and, again, it is overproduced. Although it is quite catchy, the track is hardly innovative.
The subsequent few songs are also a sea of production and noise. It is not as invasive as 2008’s Only by the Night though, which is a relief, and is certainly acceptable as background music.
The Kings of Leon are good players and it shows; it is all very clean stuff aimed at middle-America. ‘Muchacho’ comes on and fleetingly one hopes it is going to be an interesting Mexicana-rock fusion, but it does not happen. After that, ‘Conversation Piece’ begins with the lines: “Take me back to California, To those crystal neon signs”. It is a long way from ‘Trani’, their 2003 equivalent. I said I would try not compare, but it is a worthwhile enough point.
The final few tracks offer momentary glimpses into a creative mindset that still clearly exists in the band but, unfortunately, they never quite break out of the walls of overproduction that have pervaded their output for the last 10 years.
The title track, ‘WALLS’ closes the album, but one is left wondering why, other than political topicality, the name stuck.
As a whole, this album is considerably better than some of their other more recent offerings, but it still lacks the creative jive of their opening act.