Kings of Leon, ‘Mechanical Bull’

“Mechanical Bull” earns two out of five stars.

Parker Munson, Writer

Life on the road can be demanding. In 2011, Kings of Leon found that out the hard way. After touring consistently for almost 10 years, the band found themselves subject to total physical and mental exhaustion. When their frontman, Caleb Followill, made the news for drunkenly leaving the stage in Dallas to “vomit and drink a beer,” the band could no longer afford to ignore their fatigue and took a much-needed hiatus. Now, after three years, the boys seemed to have gotten back on track with their sixth album, “Mechanical Bull.” And yes — you can call it a comeback. It might even be the comeback story of a lifetime.

When brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill started Kings of Leon back in 1999, they had just experienced the divorce of their parents and their dad’s resignation as a pastor. The brothers then headed to Nashville to expand their horizons. However, their 2003 debut album, “Youth And Young Manhood” failed to cause much of a commotion in the U.S., despite its international acclaim. The brothers are fast learners though, and in 2004, the electrifying ”Aha Shake Heartbreak” went platinum. From there, the guys’ career shot off, propelling them into a decade-long tour that would produce four more successful albums accompanied by enough stress to nearly kill them, or at least make them ill. It turns out that a little time off can go a long way. “Mechanical Bull” takes the band back to its early days, ditching the massive arena-rock sound, that made the infamous “Sex on Fire” possible, and returning to that bona fide southern rock sound that got them their start.

There’s no question of whether or not “Mechanical Bull” is a comeback record. If you’re still on the fence, perhaps the album's song “Comeback Story” will remove any shred of doubt you still have. “A comeback story of a lifetime,” Followill sings, “I walk a mile in your shoes / And now I’m a mile away / And I’ve got your shoes.” There’s a certain tongue-in-cheek self-awareness throughout the record that feels authentic though nonetheless facetious. After all, it’s not like substance abuse is a new thing for the rock ’n’ roll types.

“Mechanical Bull” has no shortage of comeback songs. “Beautiful War,” “Wait For Me” and “Family Tree” all explore the band’s regeneration from being burnt-out to back-on-top. “Supersoaker” the album’s lead-off single about sentimental girls and guys that can’t commit, is a surefire radio hit, in the same vein as “Use Somebody” but far less obnoxious. Likewise, “Family Tree” is probably the most like their earlier work, and its soulful bluesy chorus is nearly impossible to not sing along to. Not to mention, the album’s most reckless track, “Don’t Matter,” which is a good ol’ raucous rock jam, complete with enough apathetic lyricism and guitar solos to make your head spin.

Though they’ve come a long way in the past three years, it seems to me that “Mechanical Bull” still lacks that special something that would put these guys back in the game. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, and it most likely won’t stand out as one of this year’s biggest hits. Kings of Leon was taken for a ride on the vicious machine of celebritism and got knocked to the ground hard. With “Mechanical Bull,” they attempt to dust themselves off, get right back up and grab the bull by the horns. I’m afraid that in the process of doing so, they’ve not quite sobered up, leaving their grips not on the horns but the tail. Better hope it doesn’t buck.

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