Kings Of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak

Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005)

B

1. Slow Night, So Long 2. King Of The Rodeo 3. Taper Jean Girl 4. Pistol Of Fire 5. Milk 6. The Bucket 7. Soft 8. Razz 9. Day Old Blues 10. Four Kicks 11. Velvet Snow 12. Rememo

 

Well, they show some actual musical development here, so that’s good. Indeed, Aha Shake Heartbreak is one of those rare sophomore albums by alt-rock bands who produce overhyped debut albums that is not either a) a boring, inferior rehash of their first album, or b) a self-consciously hype-killing experiment in hipster extremism. Rather, the second KOL album finds the sweet spot between the two extremes. Timbre-wise, it’s not all that distinguishable from the two guitars/bass/drums garagey classic rock template of Youth & Young Manhood. However, the band has slightly expanded their songwriting palette, just enough to sound a little moodier, a little less slavishly indebted to their influences, and a little more musically mature. On the other hand, they put a drawing of a vagina on the cover, so be assured that they haven’t matured too much.

Seriously, though, the stylistic adjustments the band made here aren’t drastic, but they’re noticeable, and improve the band’s sound by broadening it. Just about every guitar lick on Youth & Young Manhood sounded like it had been lifted from one of the Followills’ favorite early 70s rock records, but the more modern-sounding angular riffs on the too-fast-to-be-pre-punk tunes “King Of The Rodeo” and “Velvet Snow” provide some clarity as to how KOL got their “Southern Strokes” tag. Plus, there seems to be some added menace to the cuts that could have fit on the debut – two-minute guitar stompers “Pistol Of Fire” (featuring a terrific Richardsian solo by Matthew) and “Four Kicks” are about as raw and nasty as these guys are ever going to get.

However, most of these positive developments take place on the first half of the disc – side two is, by comparison, a dull letdown, which means Aha Shake Heartbreak receives the same grade as its predecessor. Nothing outside of “Four Kicks” comes close to matching the swagger and catchiness of side one rock chestnuts “Taper Jean Girl” and “The Bucket,” and some of it is downright obnoxious. “Soft”’s catchy arpeggiated riff is squandered by Caleb’s lyrics, which consist of the most moronically crass series of limp dick innuendo I’ve heard since my friends and I used to hang out on the fire escape behind school in seventh grade. I mean, have you ever heard a dumber metaphor than “I’d pop myself in your body/I’d come into your party/But I’m soft,” which is so stupidly written it’s barely even a metaphor? TMI, dude. Caleb thankfully doesn’t act like The Todd for the entire album, but still manages to ruin “Day Old Blues,” otherwise a pleasant, tender acoustic change of pace, with a grating “yodeling hillbilly” delivery on the chorus. Man, that Caleb was annoying even when he was good, huh?

Regardless of my feelings for that jackwad, the good parts of Aha Shake Heartbreak represent an undeniable step forward for the band’s songwriting. Sure, I appreciate the slightly expanded musical diversity, and mild guts it took to open the album with a tango (a brief outro tacked on to the end of the opening rocker “Slow Night, So Long”) and closing it with the country waltz (“Rememo”). But what I remember about Heartbreak after it’s over are the improved rock tunes – the strong hooks of “Taper Jean Girl” and “The Bucket,” the rollicking riffs of “Four Kicks” and “Pistol Of Fire.” Give these guys credit for one thing – they’ve never made the same album twice.



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