Kings Of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood

Youth & Young Manhood (2003)


1. Red Morning Light 2. Happy Alone 3. Wasted Time 4. Joe’s Head 5. Trani 6. California Waiting 7. Spiral Staircase 8. Molly’s Chambers 9. Genius 10. Dusty 11. Holly Roller Novocaine 12. Talihina Sky


Kings Of Leon may not have always looked like Guess Jeans models, but they’ve been selling themselves and their image with all the savvy of Madison Avenue execs right from the beginning. The only difference between now and 2003 is who their target audience is. Now, it’s mostly stupid teenage girls who only like the band because “Caleb is SOOOO hot omg!!!11” (and who, based on the success of Justin Bieber and co., have proven to be perhaps the most lucrative segment of the modern-day record-buying public, surpassed by only the middle-aged soccer moms who buy all those Clay Aiken and Adele CDs). Then, it was primarily the scores of people out there who want to live in an alternate universe where rock music never progressed past 1975 – or teenagers musically ignorant enough not to have heard much of that progression. Not only did they have the stompin’ classic rock-style tunes, but with their bellbottoms, shoulder-length hair, and mountain man beards, they looked like a Bad Company fan’s platonic ideal of a rock band. To be clear, I’m not criticizing them for trying to project an image. You can’t attract a loyal fan base just by writing good songs – you have to give your audience some kind of extra-musical identity for them to relate to. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to dismiss “Use Somebody” as a blatant piece of commercialism, you have to be willing to say the same thing about Youth & Young Manhood. Just because the first KOL album belongs in a more acceptably hip musical idiom than their more recent efforts doesn’t make it any less directly aimed at certain people’s wallets.

There’s nothing wrong with liking it anyway, of course. Although I realize now it isn’t as far removed from the depressingly derivative classic rock rip off artistry of some of KOL’s peers like Jet or the Killers. I mean, the lineage of all these tunes is clear as day, from the Stonesy stomp of “Red Morning Light” to the juvenile AC/DC-esque adrenaline of “Spiral Staircase” to the scraggly Basement Tapes-like lonesome Americana sound of “Dusty.” And they don’t do much to disguise their influences either – all they’ve got is two guitars, bass, drums, some light piano here and there, and the same beautiful, lightly fuzzy Les Paul lead guitar tone and licks Dave Davies was using to imitate Keith Richards circa 1971. Essentially, just like they’da done it if they’d been making this record thirty years before they did – the only particularly unique aspect of their sound is Caleb’s utterly incomprehensible sqawking. Sure, you can call that a lack of creativity or originality or what have you. But I am willing to entertain the idea that, because of the nature of their upbringing during which they were denied access to rock ‘n roll in favor of hymns and spirituals, classic rock was a relatively new discovery for the Followills, the songs on Youth are honest, excited responses to hearing that music for the first time. It really could be that the band was genuinely unaware how many times their favorite artists had already been ripped off. Who knows.

I can only suspend belief so far, however, because the guys seem pretty well acquainted with hard living already. “Spiral Staircase” appears to be about a particularly disgusting orgy, and the best song on the album is called “Trani,” fer goodness sake, on which Caleb either reminisces about or pretends to inhabit a world filled with “cheap trick hookers” and “little bump of cocaine.” The emotional resonance of the slowly and expertly built up climax tells me that these things really matter to the guy, as if honestly believes there’s something truly romantic about the late night drugs-and-groupies rock star hedonism lifestyle. I’m not sure anyone else outside of Cameron Crowe thinks there’s much of anything romantic about it anymore, but hey, we’re pretending it’s 1974, remember?

Much has also been made about their crude, red-blooded opinion of women, which doesn’t appear to have advanced much beyond 1974 either (“You always like it undercover/Tucked in between the sheets/But no one’s even done nothin’ to ya/And I’m between the hollers and the screams.” What a slut! How dare she have sex! Unless it’s with you, whenever you want it, of course). But it’s near impossible to understand almost any of the lyrics thanks to Caleb’s bizarre brogue, so just ignore them and listen to the guitars! Indeed, Matthew proves himself very much adept at coming up with catchy riffs, even without ever straying very far out of a basic bluesy framework. Sure, there’s not much he can do when the songwriting is formulaic (rocker “California Waiting,” bluesy pastiche “Genius”), but the hits “Molly’s Chambers” and “Wasted Time” are catchy as balls and kick ass pretty fucking nicely. They show range beyond three-chord guitar rock with the aforementioned “Trani” and the sweet Led Zeppelin III jangle of “Joe’s Head.” But it’s still a pretty darn small range – though they manage to do enough within it, wake me up when it expands beyond the early 70s.

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